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September 8, 2005

Banned On The Bayou

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Before anyone gets slap-happy over the candor exhibited by the media at the height of the Katrina disaster, consider that it happened in a near total political vacuum.  Certainly, with the Bush PR machine reasserting itself in a directed (read: take-no-prisoners) effort to regain control of the disaster narrative, you can expect the media intimidation and arm twisting to be nothing short of punishing.

Of course, the speculation is that thousands of bodies (as well as goodness knows what other catastrophes and complications) are yet to to be found in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.  Surely, there is no shortage of reporters and photographers expecting to cover the effort.  Still, if Bush/Rove has anything to say about it, the media and the public will remain less the wise as to whatever is encountered, be it epidemiological, environmental, technological or humanitarian.

Floatingvictim400

Ostensibly, the bias against photography is to respect the dignity of victims. (It’s the same line that has justified hiding the returning caskets of American soldiers killed in Iraq.)  The real reason, however, is to stem the devastatingly bad publicity arising from plainly devastating images like the one above — as well as anything worse.

(The fact that the crisis in now ten days old and we are still seeing images like this one below –appearing today in a NYT front page article specifically about the abundance of corpses downtown — is the kind of visual damnation that even Rove can’t counterspin.)

Nocorpse400

FEMA may be run by political hacks that are inept in the face of humanitarian tragedy.  But what hacks do know how to do is respond to political disasters.  As a consequence, we have the edict in the news clipping above that appeared as a minor item in yesterday’s Times.  (Perhaps, instead of detaching FEMA from the Homeland Security Department, as some have proposed, it should be transferred to the Pentagon which has already figured out how to both appropriate and embed reporters at the same time.)

Riverboat400

In light of the new media “restrictions” (read: “censorship), it’s not surprising the NYT was relegated to photographing one of these rescue boats from shore on Tuesday, rather than from a passenger seat.

I’m sure the guns are for fending off psychologically deranged residents and roaming bands of desperados, and the masks are for protecting the skin against the toxic waters.  If that’s simply the case, however, how come I keep imagining the weapons as a show of force against the media and the masks symbolizing rescue workers under gag order?



(image 1: New York Times. September 7, 2005. p. A21. image 2 : James Nielson/ AFP — Getty Images.  September 1, 2005.  New Orleans. NYT.com. image 3: Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times.  September 8, 2005.  New Orleans.  New York Times, p. A19.  Note: image cropped for appearance here. image 4: Chang W. Lee for The New York Times. September 7, 2005. p. A17.)

  • lytom

    When are they going to start shooting the media for taking photographs?
    There is a strong attempt to conceal the transparency and any attempt to uncover facts, merits the phrase from the government… that “It hinders the effort to save people”… or that “Now is not the time”…
    How familiar that sounds! The question is, will that be successful and gag the media?

  • bg

    I have heard (NPR) there have already been confrontations with guns pointed at photographers. Tonight our paper has the nat’l. guard rounding up boats to protect against “looting.” Yep, none o’ them Resisters and damn sure none o’ them Photographers will be ‘lowed to use or have any access to a boat.
    The water is frighteningly toxic, for sure, and boats also offer protection from being IN the water. . .
    The Resistance still left in NOLA certainly have no idea what has been going on since all they have is their wits to survive in the face of no TV or radio or phones, and no clean water or food.
    I have also heard there is now Resistance to FEMA by local law authorities. Local law using arms to try to keep FEMA out.
    We sure don’t want this information and even more important, PICTURES of THIS Resistance, to get into the public domain.

  • http://crazydaisy.us Kerstin

    I listened to NPR this morning and it sure as sh*t didn’t sound like “the recovery of the victims was being treated with dignity and utmost respect.” The military has been tying bodies to poles and kicking the deceased back into buildings with the excuse that they don’t have the authority to “deal with downers.”
    RawStory briefly showed another floating body that was much more colorful than the pic the NYT chose to show last week (the same one you have in this post). The one above is colorless and viewed from a safe distance. The one Raw Story had up was a close-up of a woman in a brightly colored floral shirt. The vivid colors and the detail of her hair floating in the water made me gasp whereas the one above has the effect of distancing us from reality and our subsequent feelings of shock and horror.

  • fotonique
  • Asta

    At what point will the people resisting FEMA and evacuation/evictions be referred to as the Insurgents?

  • http://www.livejournal.com/users/vicfitz82 Victor F

    This is a blatant attempt to censor the media from reporting the truth. It should be opposed by anybody who has any amount of knowledge about the Constitution. This is a massive public disaster and the government has no right to keep information from other members of the public. I could understand putting limits on media in Iraq, but I cannot understand this. I cannot express the anger I feel after 5 years living under Bush’s tyranny disguised by “national security.” I can’t believe any sensible person voted for the moron in chief. His policy of leaving the American people out of his decisions is reflected in the actions of other agents of the executive branch. It severely depresses me that we have 3 more years of Bush to endure.

  • Gleex

    The fellow in the front sure seems to be pointing/aiming his gun right at the photographer.

  • http://molly.douthett.net Molly

    Everyone, right now, if you haven’t already BEGIN SAVING YOUR KATRINA LINKS. We will need them, I fear.
    It breaks my heart to think this much less type it……

  • Whinny Whiner

    I intend to eat all my sale Cheerios in a bed with those big quilty, duckfilled pillows and my comfortor bedspreads ontop of my head with my laptop and remote control until Dubya leaves us all alone. Gard is also someone I love dearly. Kiss Kiss

  • dissector

    I commented breifly on the Blinded by the Light post the other day about restriction of photography by fema. I agree with much of what has been said above, basically that this is clearly about controling the story, containing/minimizing outrage of the public not directly affected, etc. they certainly don’t want images like those appearing in the german press:
    http://www.stern.de/politik/panorama/:Panorama-Get/545734.html
    http://www.stern.de/politik/panorama/:Panorama-Get/545649.html

  • n

    “Ostensibly, the bias against photography is to respect the dignity of victims.”
    And yet we have many photos of the dead from the 19th century. Sometimes it was the only photo ever made of a person.
    And what are we to do with the photos of Civil War dead.
    This is creepy, but in the South it’s surprisingly common to photograph the dead.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/sydluna/ sydluna

    The administration had no problem with the ‘dignity of the dead’ when the Tsunami was being covered.
    I watched the Amy Goodman show on my computer at work this morning. Check it out at democracynow.org
    Sept. 9 program. She interviewed several journalists at the hurricane site who were threatened by police, had guns pointed at them, their film confiscated, etc. It’s horrifying and shameful.

  • fotonique
  • http://www.kathryncramer.com Kathryn Cramer

    The problem is that neither of the two ways demonstrated by fotonique are the right way: context is key. A corpse is an object; your grandmother laid out is the casket is a person. Contextualize the dead.

  • fotonique

    your grandmother laid out in the casket is a person.
    Precisely.
    Rule #4

  • fotonique

    Respect for the Dead.

  • http://www.livejournal.com/users/cheetahmaster/ PMMJ
  • http://www.sharonarts.com perragrande

    This picture doesn’t have a dead body in it.
    Creepiest pic I’ve seen, in the foreign press, of course:
    at Stern, the german magazine.
    http://www.stern.de
    Link: “New Orleans, Get the Fuck Out of Here”.
    When you click on the link, there is an alligator crawling around on a hardwood floor inside a house. He has blood all over his evil grin, and there is blood on the floor in front of him. Whatever he had for a meal, must have been pretty freshly dead.
    Whew. The powers of the imagination. Kind of like Hitchcock, only the setting has changed to a watery hell.

  • dissector

    perragrande, this is the image I linked to in my earlier post. stern is apparently pretty much a tabloid. the gator is in a church and has been shot in the head (a german friend translated the article for me), but you’d not know that from just looking at the image. I assumed it had been eating corpses or something. it is grizzly.
    the list of images at the right on that page link to other, moving and distrubing (perhaps exploitative) images from the region.

  • http://molly.douthett.net Molly

    Hmm. I clicked on fotonique’s links for “respect” and “dead” and got google pages with logos on them. What am I supposed to be seeing here?

  • fotonique

    Molly: I clicked on fotonique’s links for “respect” and “dead” and got google pages with logos on them. What am I supposed to be seeing here?
    (Clue: search terms.)
    Compare.

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