Seven at NOLA Times-Pic Win Duranty-Blair Prize for Journalistic Infamy
Did the New Orleans Times-Picayune win a Pulitzer Prize for a journalistic fraud? It sure looks that way.
New Orleans Times-Picayune reporters Brian Thevenot, Gordon Russell, Jeff Duncan and Gwen Filosa; managing editors, news, Peter Kovacs and Dan Shea; and editor Jim Amoss, are the newest winners of the Duranty-Blair Award for Journalistic Infamy, for their September 26, 2005 attempt to “untell” the story of the savage violence that befell New Orleans just before and after Hurricane Katrina made landfall on August 29 of last year.
The previous Duranty-Blair winner was former CBS News producer Mary Mapes, who engineered what became known as the “Memogate” (aka Rathergate) hoax, shortly before the 2004 election, in an effort to swing the election toward Democrat challenger, Sen. John Kerry (MA).
The Duranty-Blair Award is named for two of the most notorious scoundrels in the history of American journalism, Walter Duranty and Jayson Blair, both of whom were New York Times reporters. (See Jayson Blair I, II, and III.)
On April 17, the “Times-Pic” won a Pulitzer Prize for a September 26, 2005 story that had immediately been discredited by the bloggers “ziel” of Your Lying Eyes and Eric Scheie at Classical Values. Two weeks later, building on their work, it was also discredited by this writer.
Thanks primarily to the new Duranty-Blair winners, one year and two weeks after Hurricane Katrina made landfall, the general public knows much less about what happened in New Orleans, than it did a year ago.
The two most influential stories on post-Katrina New Orleans were both published by the Times-Picayune, the city’s only major newspaper, on September 6 and 26, respectively.
“[Mikel] Brooks and several other Guardsmen said they had seen between 30 and 40 more bodies in the Convention Center's freezer. ‘It's not on, but at least you can shut the door,’ said fellow Guardsman Phillip Thompson.”
Thevenot also quoted Brooks as saying that there was “a 7-year-old with her throat cut" in the freezer.
He moved on, walking quickly through the darkness, pulling his camouflage shirt to his face to screen out the overwhelming odor. “There's an old woman,” he said, pointing to a wheelchair covered by a sheet. “I escorted her in myself. And that old man got bludgeoned to death,” he said of the body lying on the floor next to the wheelchair….
Brooks and his unit came to New Orleans not long after serving a year of combat duty in Iraq, taking on gunfire and bombs, while losing comrades with regularity. Still, the scene at the Convention Cen
ter, where they conducted an evacuation this week, left him shell-shocked.
“I ain't got the stomach for it, even after what I saw in Iraq,” said Brooks, referring to the freezer where the bulk of the bodies sat decomposing. “In Iraq, it's one-on-one. It's war. It's fair. Here, it's just crazy. It's anarchy. When you get down to killing and raping people in the streets for food and water … And this is America. This is just 300 miles south of where I live.”
As blogger Bonnie Wren noted in a letter she sent to Times-Picayune editors and Duranty-Blair laureates Peter Kovacs, Dan Shea, and Jim Amoss, which they chose not to publish, “This [9/6] story received widespread circulation all over the world.”
(In a featured article by Brian Thevenot in the October/November 2005 American Journalism Review, “Apocalypse in New Orleans,” he repeated his most dramatic stories.)
Hereafter, for brevity’s sake, hereafter I will refer simply to “9/6” and to “9/26,” respectively.
On 9/6, the only story Thevenot related from National Guardsmen who did not claim to have first-hand knowledge of its truth, was the following:
One of the bodies, they said, was a girl they estimated to be 5 years old. Though they could not confirm it, they had heard she was gang-raped.
Note that the Guardsmen were quite sure that they had the five-year-old’s corpse.
Realizing after 9/6 that they had violated the taboo against presenting black folks behaving badly, especially after blacks across the country had voiced outrage at the media for referring to black looters as, um, “looters,” and/or because Times-Picayune editors and staffers remembered, ‘Hey, we’ve got to live here,’ the newspaper reversed course, and “untold” the huge story it had broken.
Unlike Superman, however, the folks at the Times-Pic could not reverse time by flying against the Earth’s axis more rapidly than the speed of light, so they had to be more creative.
In case the reader has come to believe that 9/6 was indeed a phony story, and thus would tend to believe a story debunking it, I ask him to keep in mind the following points: Thevenot and the Times Picayune did not retract or correct his 9/6 story; and as I will demonstrate, through my own research and the help of many other journalists, 9/26 was itself a fraudulent story.
Discredited from the Get-Go
In 9/26, entitled, “Rumors of deaths greatly exaggerated; Widely reported attacks false or unsubstantiated; 6 bodies found at Dome; 4 at Convention Center,” Times-Picayune reporters Brian Thevenot, Gordon Russell, Jeff Duncan and Gwen Filosa claimed to have followed up on, and disproved, the most dramatic stories, including Thevenot’s 9/6 story.
The initial criticisms of Thevenot & Co. were:
1. That 9/6 had been altered (Scheie; unfortunately, the Times-Pic is not archived in the “Wayback Machine”);
2. That 9/26 claims that “rumors” had asserted that there were over 200 corpses at the Superdome, were a straw-man argument intended, by counterposing them to extremely low “true” body counts, to discredit all stories of mayhem (ziel at Your Lying Eyes);
3. That following 9/6, but prior to 9/26, the story’s most dramatic charges “of dead children in the Convention Center” had been denounced by police Superintendent Compass as “vicious rumors,” but the Times-Picayune had never printed a correction; and in a related but richer vein,
4. The 9/26 charges that the most dramatic stories about the convention center were “exaggerations” and rumor-mongering would mean that Thevenot and the Times-Picayune had been guilty of “exaggerations” and rumor-mongering.
Regarding the first criticism, Eric Scheie cited gruesome material that he claimed was in the original 9/6, but no longer is in its Web version.
In the matter of the second criticism, the 9/26 team (and in a separate, December/January American Journalism Review article, by Thevenot alone, who claimed to be debunking claims of 300 corpses warehoused at one school) claimed to be responding to “rumors” spread by the national and foreign media that had determined most people’s impressions about post-Katrina anarchy. However, I wasn’t aware of any such media rumors at the time, and it is only in Thevenot’s December/January AJR article that he cites one specific national or foreign media report, a September 5, 2005 article in London’s Financial Times, that he says spoke of hundreds of corpses warehoused in a school in St. Bernard Parish. Again, I do not recall hearing echoes of that article at the time.
As “ziel” pointed out at Your Lying Eyes, Thevenot & Co. conjured up incredibly exaggerated reports of murder victims that were supposedly in circulation earlier, as straw men to discredit all reports of anarchic violence, even though no one else can recall hearing such reports at the time.
Usually when someone tries to avoid responsibility for assigning blame to others, I'm not terribly impressed, unless it appears that the person trying to shift blame helped create the problem. And I'm wondering what's going on with the Times Picayune's Brian Thevenot, who's taking a hard line in condemning earlier gruesome reports of crime which he now says were untrue….
[Scheie then quotes a long passage from 9/26]
[9/26] “Four weeks after the storm, few of the widely reported atrocities have been backed with evidence…. The piles of bodies never materialized, and soldiers, police officers and rescue personnel on the front lines say that although anarchy reigned at times and people suffered unimaginable indignities, most of the worst crimes reported at the time never happened.”
[Scheie:] The above is certainly good news by any standard. But what's troubling to me is that some of the bad news was reported by Thevenot himself. By implication, he's now saying that his own story, which I was unfortunate enough to link before in the assumption that it was accurate, was either lying or exaggerated….
[Schneie:] I'm a bit baffled by [9/26]. It's one thing to correct your own story, but the earlier one appears to have been pulled, without a retraction or correction ever being issued. Instead, the reporter who wrote it seems to be attacking bad reporting -- and completely failing to point out that his own story played a key role.
The Four Faces of Brian
Let me sum up the World According to Thevenot (& Co., in the case of 9/26).
1. In 9/6: Every atrocity imaginable occurred in the convention center;
(Ditto, in the October/November AJR article, which Thevenot surely wrote prior to 9/26);
2. In 9/26, Thevenot, Russell, Duncan and Filosa all claim that “rumors” were responsible for the beliefs around the world about savagery in post-Katrina New Orleans, and strongly suggest that there was in fact no savagery at all at the convention center, Superdome, or anywhere else in post-Katrina New Orleans. Nowhere do they admit to having caused the beliefs in question;
3. On October 3, Thevenot apparently lies to Eric Scheie, when he asserts that he has retracted 9/6;
4. In Thevenot’s December/January AJR article, he asserts that 9/26 was a “correction” of 9/6, suggests that the National Guardsmen quoted in 9/6 lies, but doesn’t want to be harsh on them, and again suggests that massive looting, desperation, and abysmal sanitary conditions notwithstanding, there was no problem with post-Katrina violence.
One expects such pathological dissembling and the constant production of new stories which contradict previously told ones from criminals, junkies, drunks and politicians. Thevenot and his editor and reporter accomplices could count on few civilians (non-journalists and non-academics) reading all of the various stories cited here; that judges on the Pulitzer committee, would cover for them, is scary.
“Corrections” and “retractions” are formal acts undertaken by newspapers, when they have been shown to have botched a story. They are typically brief, and appear on page two in the paper version, and are typically added to the Web version of the original story online. In extreme cases, an editor will assign a different reporter to redo the original story from scratch, in a story that will be billed as a correction. In the latter case, as occurred in July 2003, when New York Times reporter Lynette Holloway dramatically botched a music business story with huge financial and legal implications, the newspaper will also fire the reporter who screwed up, or as in Holloway’s case, permit her to resign. In the most dramatic case, in May 2003, in the wake of the Jayson Blair fabrication/plagiarism scandal, the New York Times published an over 14,000-word correction.
If the Times-Picayune provided a correction or retraction of 9/6, neither I nor its other critics managed to find it. Likewise, I could find no correction or retraction in the December-January American Journalism Review of Brian Thevenot’s October-November AJR story on post-Katrina New Orleans.
In this series I will show not only that there was massive violence in New Orleans in Katrina’s wake, but that pre-Katrina New Orleans was such a violent city, that had reporters merely cut and paste, and re-published pre-Katrina news stories with the dates changed, readers across America and the world, would have had the same reaction that they had to the supposedly “exaggerated” post-Katrina stories.
The sort of peaceful – if filthy and desperate – post-Katrina conditions that Thevenot, Russell, Duncan and Filosa asserted in 9/26 were the case, and that Thevenot asserted were the case in the December/January AJR, had not existed in The Big Easy for at least 20 years.
The Pulitzer Prize for Deception?
In the best-case scenario, Brian Thevenot won a Pulitzer Prize for a story he co-wrote, which discredited and at the same covered up a story he had previously botched. In the worst-case scenario, Thevenot and Gordon Russell shared a Pulitzer Prize for a story that was fraudulent in and of itself, and that charged Thevenot’s previous story with being either a botch, in which he was made a fool of by liars, or spread a pack of his own lies.
In either case – cover-up or outright fraud – Thevenot, Russell, and the Times-Pic won a Pulitzer for dishonest reporting.
Award-winning, New York-based freelancer Nicholas Stix founded A Different Drummer magazine (1989-93). Stix has written for Die Suedwest Presse, New York Daily News, New York Post, Newsday, Middle American News, Toogood Reports, Insight, Chronicles, the American Enterprise, Campus Reports, VDARE, the Weekly Standard, Front Page Magazine, Ideas on Liberty, National Review Online and the Illinois Leader. His column also appears at Men's News Daily, MichNews, Intellectual Conservative, Enter Stage Right and OpinioNet. Stix has studied at colleges and universities on two continents, and earned a couple of sheepskins, but he asks that the reader not hold that against him. His day jobs have included washing pots, building Daimler-Benzes on the assembly-line, tackling shoplifters and teaching college, but his favorite job was changing his son's diapers.