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Know the West

Dangerous distortions

  The recent Editor’s Note, "Exodus," showed me that you need to be more careful when reaching for analogies (HCN, 10/3/05: Exodus). The comparison of the Anasazi to modern-day New Orleans included the now debunked media stories about widespread "murder and rape" in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Those stories made front-page news in my Oregonian newspaper; weeks later, an article buried in the paper indicated they were probably fabrications of a handful of rattled survivors, happily disseminated by the ravenous 24-hour-news media. This kind of media distortion is all the more dangerous when it furthers long-held and wrong-headed equations, such as the association of dark-skinned people with the "dark side(s) of human nature." We are all "light," we are all "dark."

John Fiedler
Rose Lodge, Oregon


Thank you for the correction. During the last week of September (the week after my editorial mentioning New Orleans went to press), news reports began to debunk the early reports of murder and rape — reports dished out by the city’s police chief, among others. Between the Superdome and the Convention Center, the two main centers for refugees, there was only one confirmed death due to violence, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Police said that most of the reports of rape were false.

Still, there’s no question that chaos did break out, perhaps most notably among some law enforcement officers. Acting New Orleans Police Chief Warren Riley has suspended four officers without pay and put more than a dozen others under investigation for looting, or failing to combat looting, following the storm.

Greg Hanscom, editor