On September 1, 72 hours after Hurricane Katrina ripped through New Orleans, the Associated Press news wire flashed a nightmare of a story: “Katrina Evacuation Halted Amid Gunfire…Shots Are Fired at Military Helicopter.”
The article flew across the globe via at least 150 news outlets, from India to Turkey to Spain. Within 24 hours commentators on every major American television news network had helped turn the helicopter sniper image into the disaster’s enduring symbol of dysfunctional urbanites too depraved to be saved.
Golfer Tiger Woods spoke for many of us on September 2 when he remarked, during a tournament in Boston, that “it’s just unbelievable…how people are behaving, with the shootings and now the gang rapes and the gang violence and shooting at helicopters who are trying to help out and rescue people.”
Like many early horror stories about ultra-violent New Orleans natives, whether in their home city or in far-flung temporary shelters, the A.P. article turned out to be false.