Well, I suppose you all have heard the news about the news about New Orleans.
For days after the city was flooded we were flooded with reports of the horrors of a city descending into hell. Armed gangs, went the tale, were roaming the streets, preying on the innocent. Children were being raped and murdered in the Superdome, bodies of murder victims were being stacked there. Thoughout the city there was murder and mayhem.
And now, it is apparent that little of this was in fact true.
There was one death by violence in the Superdome, the latest reports say. All told, six or seven murder victims in the week after the flood, roughly average, given the high murder rate in New Orleans. There is no evidence of children being raped and murdered.
It’s not like these tall tales appeared on a marginal website somewhere, or in the Weekly World News. No, they were propagated by the police chief and Oprah Winfrey, and dutifully reported by news media across the political spectrum.
And we believed them.
Did we believe them because of an instinctive trust of authoritative-sounding newsmen in a time of crisis?
Or did we believe them because of some latent tendency to expect the worst from black people, or poor people, when the structures of order collapse, from some residual racial or class bigotry?
I don’t know the answer to these questions, but I hope a national examination of conscience ensues, not least from those who broadcast unsubstantiated rumor as news, and who in doing so may have slowed rescue efforts, thus costing lives.