Exploiting Fear and Emotion

While both parties are guilty of reaching to the heart of their constituents instead of their heads by using fear, anger and hatred to convince them to support them or more likely to NOT support ‘the other guy’, recently the democratic party has stepped up the game in order to regain the control that they’ve lost over the past few years.

However, in one of their key talking points they have gotten the facts just plain wrong in a way that it may be impossible to repair the damage of their misuse of the nation’s trust. In fact, recent reporting shows how the response of the government to hurricane Katrina was much better than most of us have been led to believe.

Popular Mechanics recently investigated several of the myths surrounding hurricane Katrina. One those myths was “The aftermath of Katrina will go down as one of the worst abandonments of Americans on American soil ever in US history.” – Aaron Broussard, President, Jefferson Parish, LA on Meet the Press September 4, 2005. However, Popular Mechanics explains how this is just not the case.

They write that even though the top disaster management officials may have appeared to be trying out for the new Three Stooges movie, the response was by far one of the largest – and fastest – rescue effort in US history with nearly 100,000 emergency personnel arriving on the scene within three days of the storm’s landfall. They also report that in less than one day after Katrina’s landfall the airspace around New Orleans was so saturated with rescue helos that aerial collisions became a real danger.

Dozens of National Guard and Coast Guard helicopters flew rescue operations that first day–some just 2 hours after Katrina hit the coast. Hoistless Army helicopters improvised rescues, carefully hovering on rooftops to pick up survivors. On the ground, “guardsmen had to chop their way through, moving trees and recreating roadways,” says Jack Harrison of the National Guard. By the end of the week, 50,000 National Guard troops in the Gulf Coast region had saved 17,000 people; 4000 Coast Guard personnel saved more than 33,000.

These units had help from local, state and national responders, including five helicopters from the Navy ship Bataan and choppers from the Air Force and police. The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries dispatched 250 agents in boats. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), state police and sheriffs’ departments launched rescue flotillas. By Wednesday morning, volunteers and national teams joined the effort, including eight units from California’s Swift Water Rescue. By Sept. 8, the waterborne operation had rescued 20,000.

While the press focused on FEMA’s shortcomings, this broad array of local, state and national responders pulled off an extraordinary success–especially given the huge area devastated by the storm. Computer simulations of a Katrina-strength hurricane had estimated a worst-case-scenario death toll of more than 60,000 people in Louisiana. The actual number was 1077 in that state.

The problem was that during the days after the hurricane, camera crews focused on the panic and reported every sordid rumor that passed it’s way without once attempting to do due diligence to determine the factual basis of any of the reports it aired. As I wrote on this blog back in September (The Highest Standards of Journalism) many, if not all of the stories reported in New Orleans were not true at all. Most noted:

• Nearly 200 corpses on ice at the superdome. Reality: 6 people died inside the superdome, 4 from natural causes, one from an overdose and the 6th was an apparent suicide.
• Large gangs were forming and running roughshot over the city, looting, raping and killing. Reality: 4 murders in the streets of new Orleans occurred during the aftermath of the hurricane, in a city that expects 200 murders a year that was just about the norm.
• Sharks were swimming down city streets. Reality: please…

What we have now is a misconception, initially shaped by an overzealous news media who needs to report the ‘end of times’ 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and then further shaped by political hacks who want to add it to their arsenal of attacks on their political rivals, on both sides of the aisle, as an example of why you should vote for them instead. Of course there were mistakes made, however focusing on the few mistakes and ignoring the myriad of successes that helped prevent what could have been tens of thousands of deaths following such a disaster does nothing positive unless you are politically motivated to do so, IMO.

As we often see, reality sheds a different light on the history of our past and taken with a critical eye we can find that we are not always exactly right. For decades we thought that the USS Maine was attacked by the Spanish sparking the Spanish-American War. But it wasn’t really reality now that we look at it with a critical eye. It was often thought that the American Indian was peace-loving people yet a look at their history shows a much more complex story than either of the extremes. The Germans claimed that they attacked the Lusitania because it was carrying weapons to the war effort, the US denied it. But years later we discovered that the ship could indeed have been doing just that.

The lesson we should learn is that we should critically look at all events, not just those that fit our political perceptions, and not trust any source that does not fit in with true critical thought. For example, does George Bush hate black people, that’s why he did nothing for Katrina victims (not all of them were black) while doing very good jobs in responding to hurricanes of previous years? OR, is it more likely that the same protocols at the federal level were taken and while there were flaws they were simple human errors and incompetence in some areas instead of a deliberate plan to hurt blacks Americans?

If you look at it critically, does it really makes sense to continue to follow the ‘party line’ that the response to Katrina was anything other than appropriate with mistakes at the federal, state and local levels that were blown out of proportion by the news media and political hacks?

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