John Leo
Thanks to a long report in the new Orleans Times-Picayune, we now know that most of the incredible tales of savagery in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina were simply made up by panicky residents and passed along by the media.

On September 2, a CNN report cited an unidentified police officer who said he saw bodies riddled with bullet holes and one man with the top of his head completely shot off. Another unnamed officer, a sergeant, said he had to pass by the bodies of other police officers who had drowned doing their job. So far as we know, none of this was true.

One of two Times-Picayune staffers who wrote the article was guilty of some dubious reporting himself. His September 5 article began, “Arkansas National Guardsman Mikel Brooks stepped through the food service entrance of the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center on Monday, flipped on the light at the end of his machine gun, and started pointing out bodies.” Unlike the CNN report, this piece named an actual person as the source, but it was written as if the reporter was authenticating all that Brooks claimed. Brooks says, “Don’t step in that blood-it’s contaminated.” Pointing out bodies, Brooks says, “That’s a kid. There’s another one in the freezer, a 7-year-old with her throat cut.” Under great pressure, reporters sometimes forget to ask pertinent questions, such as how did Brooks know the blood was contaminated, or that the dead girl-one of the most mentioned phantom figures in all the Katrina reporting-was exactly 7 years old? In fact, the reporter saw four bodies, not the 30 to 40 that was reported, and no dead girl.

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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