Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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September 14, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

URBAN LEGENDS....Somebody probably ought to make a collection of urban legends about Hurricane Katrina. I'll start with these stories, each of which have made the rounds pretty much everywhere but have turned out to be substantially untrue:

  • Mike Brown was not Joe Allbaugh's college roommate. They were friends in college, but not roommates.

  • That picture of firefighters who were sent to Mississippi solely to march around on a photo-op with President Bush? It was taken on September 2. The firefighters allegedly sent to "stand beside" Bush were dispatched to Louisiana and weren't flown there until September 5. The ones in the picture are legit.

  • The blacks who were labeled "looters" vs. the whites who "found" stuff in that famous pair of wire photos? Maybe, but the explanation here seems pretty reasonable.

  • Mike Brown and Michael Chertoff on Thursday knowing nothing about the mob scene at the Convention Center even though it had been on national television "for at least a day"? I think there might still be some chronology to clear up here, but Bob Somerby seems to make a good case that although the situation at the Convention Center was briefly reported the previous evening, it had been widely aired for at most a few hours before Chertoff's statement, not a day. That's still bad (and clueless), but not as bad.

    UPDATE: See here, here, here, here, and here in comments. It looks like TV coverage the previous evening was more extensive than Somerby suggests.

    UPDATE 2: Who's right about this? An extensive followup is here.

  • Reports of looting and rape among mobs of evacuees in Baton Rouge and Houston? Apparently untrue.

  • Nobody knew the levees had been breached until Tuesday the 30th. In fact, the National Weather Service reported the first levee breach early Monday morning, just as Katrina was making landfall.

    UPDATE: The linked item refers to the Industrial Canal breach, and Times-Picayune reporter John McQuaid emails to say that, in fact, there was very little confusion about this breach. Everyone up and down the line knew about it almost immediately. However:

    What caused the real confusion occurred in another part of town, where drainage canal floodwalls (the now-infamous 17th Street canal, and the London Avenue canal) also breached. These breaches flooded most of the central part of the city (the bowl) and made Katrina into a world-class catastrophe.

    The 17th Street breach was visually confirmed early Monday, August 29, reported in The Times-Picayune that afternoon, and re-confirmed by a FEMA employee later in the day. But somehow this crucial information did not make it up the chain of command, so nobody in Washington knew what was going on. Thus Michael Chertoff was unaware of any of it until sometime Tuesday, and even then kept talking about a second flood that he thought had started Tuesday.

    So it's still true that the levee breaches were initially reported early Monday and FEMA didn't know about it until much later. But it was the 17th Street breach that was the problem, not the Industrial Canal breach.

  • The floodwaters in New Orleans are a "toxic soup." Nope.

If you have other examples, add them in comments. Note that I'm not looking for individual errors from a single source or arguments about who's to blame for what. I'm only looking for specific, widely accepted stories that are demonstrably false.

Kevin Drum 1:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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