In my recent post, “Everything You Knew About Hurricane Katrina Was Wrong,” I wrote that the New York Times (along with several other major papers) gave no coverage to the newly released data showing that the victims of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans were not disproportionately black or poor, contrary to initial reports and conventional wisdom.
As it turns out, I was wrong, though not by much.
On December 18, 2005, the Times ran a front-page, 3000-word-long story titled, “Louisiana’s Deadly Storm Took Strong as Well as the Helpless,” which profiled a number of victims and gave fairly detailed accounts of how they died. Buried within the story, in the ninth paragraph, was this information:
State officials have released the names of only 512 victims — fewer than half the estimated deaths in the state — and have provided just a skeletal demographic breakdown, showing that most were 65 or older, about half were black and about half were female.
The charts on Page 46, where the article concluded, also showed the racial breakdown of known victims.
In his January 9 column on Katrina myths and facts, John Leo erroneously says that the Times’ December 18 analysis “omitted the racial breakdown from the state report.” It did not, but its inclusion was easy to miss. The Times article certainly did not stress the fact that the newly released statistics on Katrina deaths contradicted received wisdom (as did Knight-Ridder and The Los Angeles Times); it did not even put the percentage of blacks among Katrina victims in the context of the racial demographics of New Orleans. Instead, it mentioned the statistics in passing. Ironically, on another point, the Times article did specifically note that newly available information contradicted earlier notions about those who died in the hurricane:
Of those who failed to heed evacuation orders, many were offered a ride or could have driven themselves out of danger — a finding that contrasts with earlier reports that victims were trapped by a lack of transportation.
Yet surely the notion that race (along with income) was a major factor in deciding who lived and who died in the hurricane and its aftermath was far more widely touted, and far more damaging, than the notion that Katrina victims were trapped by lack of transportation.
So, on this one, the Times pretty much lives up (or down) to the “politically correct media” stereotype.
The Washington Post, as far as I can tell, has performed even worse. At the height of Katrina, it ran articles that played up the race card (including one headlined, “To Me, It Just Seems Like Black People Are Marked”). So far, I have not been able to find a single article in its database that even mentions the new reports on the demographics of Katrina’s toll.