Reporters at New Orleans' biggest newspaper won a Pulitzer Prize not for reporting the news, but for "disappearing" and covering it up.
Part II of an Ongoing Series
New Orleans Times-Picayune reporters Brian Thevenot, Gordon Russell, Jeff Duncan and Gwen Filosa; managing editors, news, Peter Kovacs and Dan Shea; and editor Jim Amoss, are the newest winners of the Duranty-Blair Award for Journalistic Infamy, for their September 26, 2005 attempt to “untell” the story of the savage violence that befell New Orleans just before and after Hurricane Katrina made landfall on August 29 of last year.
In Part I, I showed some of the discrepancies between Times-Picayune reporter Brian Thevenot’s September 6, 2005 (hereafter 9/6) story depicting mayhem and murder in the New Orleans Convention Center, in the days after Katrina made landfall; the September 26, 2005 (hereafter 9/26) story that Thevenot co-authored with colleagues Gordon Russell, Jeff Duncan, and Gwen Filosa, and which claimed there had been no violence at the Convention Center or elsewhere in New Orleans; and Thevenot’s ever-changing stories through two long American Journalism Review articles and one imperious e-mail he sent to blogger Eric Scheie at Classical Values.
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In 1981, Washington Post reporter Janet Cooke won a Pulitzer Prize for a story called “Jimmy’s World,” that she had fabricated out of thin air about a non-existent eight-year-old heroin addict in Washington, DC. Eventually, Cooke was caught lying about her education, which raised doubts about her credibility as a reporter. Her bosses at the Washington Post forced her to confess to the hoax, and she resigned from the newspaper, which returned its ill-gotten Pulitzer.
In 2006, conversely, the New Orleans Times-Picayune won a Pulitzer Prize for “9/26,” in which reporters Brian Thevenot, Gordon Russell, Jeff Duncan and Gwen Filosa took the very real, already reported story of New Orleans mayhem in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and “disappeared” it. Thevenot has also enjoyed celebrity status, based on 9/26.
For a political analogy to Thevenot’s treatment, imagine Richard Nixon’s Watergate cover-up being exposed, but instead of Nixon being forced from office, Congress and the New York City Board of Estimate (which ran things in New York in those days) voting to give Nixon a tickertape parade down Manhattan’s Canyon of Heroes.
But things are even more crooked than they so far seem. For whereas 9/6 reported National Guardsmen saying that they had seen with their own eyes 30-40 corpses warehoused in the Convention Center freezer (in addition to four sheet-covered corpses they showed Thevenot in another area), or denouncing the Guardsmen as liars, Thevenot and his 9/26 colleagues cooked up a new story entirely:
One widely circulated tale, told to The Times-Picayune by a slew of evacuees and two Arkansas National Guardsmen, held that “30 or 40 bodies” were stored in a Convention Center freezer. But a formal Arkansas Guard review of the matter later found that no soldier had actually seen the corpses, and that the information came from rumors in the food line for military, police and rescue workers in front of Harrah's New Orleans Casino, said [Lt. Col. John] Edwards, who conducted the review.
Note that the two anonymous National Guardsmen, who on 9/26 are given a new story, in 9/6 were identified as Mikel Brooks and Phillip Thompson. But in 9/6, Thevenot had also mentioned “several other Guardsmen,” none of whom he named.
Rumors of Violence
Note that 9/26 used “rumor” in the sense of a lie spread by someone who claims that an unnamed person he knows, or an unnamed person who knows someone he knows, witnessed or experienced something dramatic. But as we shall see, the New Orleans “rumors” of horrific violence were based on the testimony of people, most of whom gave their names, and who claimed to have directly witnessed or endured violent crimes, or seen the corpses of people who had been shot or bludgeoned to death. Said witnesses are either telling the truth or lying, but they are most certainly not spreading “rumors.”
The 9/26 story was dishonest in its attempts to discount violence that not only had been reported by journalists from other news outlets, but which had been reported in many different stories by different reporters appearing on different days in the pages of the Times-Picayune itself.
For Brian Thevenot, Gordon Russell, Jeff Duncan and Gwen Filosa to have a chance at winning over a reader who has read both 9/6 and 9/26, they would have to have condemned National Guardsmen Mikel Brooks and Phillip Thompson as liars for their 9/6 claims. Not only did the reporters not do that, but in different parts of the same story (9/26), they alternately seek to impeach Brooks’ credibility without naming him, and quote him by name as a witness (see next section)!
Disappearing Crime, Times-Picayune-Style
Through a series of quotes from officials, 9/26 sets up the reader to believe that only four people – as opposed to the 34-44 reported on 9/6 – died, whether of natural or unnatural causes, at the Convention Center. The 9/26 team then seeks to shave that number down to only one “suspected” victim of violence.
Just one of the dead appeared to be the victim of foul play, said [NOPD Capt. Jeff] Winn, one of few law enforcement officers who spent any time patrolling the Convention Center before it was secured. Winn, who did the final sweep of the building, said one body appeared to have stab wounds, but he could not be sure. Baldwin also said only one of the dead appeared to have been slain, apparently referring to the same body as Winn described. Bob Johannessen, spokesman for the Department of Health and Hospitals, also confirmed just one suspected homicide at the Convention Center, though he said the victim had been shot, not stabbed. A Washington Post report quoted another soldier who concluded that three of the four people appeared to have been beaten to death, including an older woman in a wheelchair.
But Spc. Mikel Brooks [!], an Arkansas Guardsman who said he wheeled the woman's dead body into the food service entrance, said she appeared to have died of natural causes. Brooks went on to say that the woman had expired sitting next to her husband, who shocked him by asking him to bring the wheelchair back.
The “Non-Crime” Strategy
The September 26 team also “disappeared” crime by re-defining violent crimes as non-crimes.On September 1, the AP’sAdam Nossiter (“Anger and Unrest Mount in Desperate New Orleans,” exists on the Web only in cached form, which may expire at any time, at message boards), reported,
“A National Guard military policeman was shot in the leg as the two scuffled for the MP's rifle, police Capt. Ernie Demmo said. The man was arrested.
“These are good people. These are just scared people,” Demmo said.
Capt. Demmo’s bizarre rationalization notwithstanding, other initial reports said that the military policeman was accompanied by a female comrade, and that when a man appeared in the dark, and hit each of them over the head with a metal rod, rather than defend her comrade, the female “soldier” ran away.
Later, the media, which had since “forgotten” the assaulted and cowardly female “soldier,” identified the assaulted military policeman as Louisiana National Guardsman Chris Watt, of the 527th Engineer Battalion. (Just as racial taboos forbid honest descriptions of black people behaving badly, sexual taboos forbid honest reporting on women who, while working in sexually inappropriate jobs – as police officers, military combat positions, “fire fighters,” etc. – prove themselves physically incompetent or show cowardice under fire.)
In 9/26, citing Watt’s commander, Thevenot, Russell, Duncan and Filosa told readers that the Guardsman’s wound was “self-inflicted,” because it came from his own rifle.
But that’s legally (not to mention, morally) irrelevant. If, for example, someone assaults a police officer, and the officer draws his weapon to defend himself, and during the struggle, his weapon fires and wounds him, the wound does not count as “self-inflicted,” because it was not accidental or the result of his intention, but rather the direct result of the assault.
Legally, the same would apply to the case of a National Guardsman keeping order. Thus, assuming the officer (soldier) survives, his attacker will be charged with first degree assault, assault with a deadly weapon, or attempted murder on a police officer (in Watt’s case, simply attempted murder). Thus, to attempt to turn the near murder of a National Guardsman into a “self-inflicted” wound is a case of sophistry in the service of evil. It also tells you what the Duranty-Blair winners think of the Guardsmen who risked their lives to save others during the savagery.
“Soldier shot - by himself“
Inside the Dome, where National Guardsmen performed rigorous security checks before allowing anyone inside, only one shooting has been verified. Even that incident, in which Louisiana Guardsman Chris Watt of the 527th Engineer Battalion was injured, has been widely misreported, said Maj. David Baldwin, who led the team of soldiers who arrested a suspect.
“Watt was attacked inside one of the Dome's locker rooms, which he entered with another soldier. In the darkness, as he walked through about six inches of water, Watt was attacked with a metal rod, a piece of a cot. But the bullet that penetrated Watt's leg came from his own gun - he accidentally shot himself in the commotion. The attacker never took his gun from him, Baldwin said. New Orleans police investigated the matter fully and sent the suspect to jail in Breaux Bridge, Baldwin said.“As for other shootings, Baldwin said, ‘We actively patrolled 24 hours a day, and nobody heard another shot.’”
Shame on Maj. Baldwin.
By the way, outside of science fiction and horror movies, “metal rods” do not attack people; only people and animals attack people. Talk about newspeak!
One year after Katrina, the Times-Picayune has been publishing its own propagandistic retrospectives, which apparently seek to bury the reader in so much revisionistic disinformation, that he never finds his way back to the truth.In an August 30, 2006 revision by 9/26 team member, Jeff Duncan, the assault with the metal rod and the cowardly female comrade have both been sent down the memory hole, and all that is left is a “scuffle” Guardsman Watt had with an assailant, who though arrested, has never been named. One wonders what the civilian could have been charged with: Third-degree scuffling? Being a material witness to a self-inflicted wound?
If one would do violence to the English language, one must be consistent. Thus, if one would define out of existence a violent crime, one must also define out of existence the ensuing arrest for said crime.At least we no longer have to worry about violent, lone metal rods on the prowl.
Maj. Baldwin notwithstanding, we also know of numerous cases in which people in the Superdome fired on rescue helicopters (to be discussed in a later part of this series).At the time of the attack on Guardsman Watt and his female comrade, some of their comrades in the 527th complained to Army Times reporter Joseph R. Chenelly.
An incensed Spc. Philip Baccus said, “I never thought that at [sic] a National Guardsman I would be shot at by other Americans. And I never thought I’d have to carry a rifle when on a hurricane relief mission. This is a disgrace.”
“Spc. Cliff Ferguson … pointed out that he knows there are plenty of decent people in New Orleans, but he said it is hard to stay motivated considering the circumstances.
“This is making a lot of us think about not reenlisting. You have to think about whether it is worth risking your neck for someone who will turn around and shoot at you. We didn’t come here to fight a war. We came here to help.”
And that was before they found out that the crimes against their comrades had been re-defined out of existence.
Award-winning, New York-based freelancer Nicholas Stix founded A Different Drummer magazine (1989-93). Stix has written for Die Suedwest Presse, New York Daily News, New York Post, Newsday, Middle American News, Toogood Reports, Insight, Chronicles, the American Enterprise, Campus Reports, VDARE, the Weekly Standard, Front Page Magazine, Ideas on Liberty, National Review Online and the Illinois Leader. His column also appears at Men's News Daily, MichNews, Intellectual Conservative, Enter Stage Right and OpinioNet. Stix has studied at colleges and universities on two continents, and earned a couple of sheepskins, but he asks that the reader not hold that against him. His day jobs have included washing pots, building Daimler-Benzes on the assembly-line, tackling shoplifters and teaching college, but his favorite job was changing his son's diapers.