There were two babies who had their throats slit. The seven-year-old girl who
was raped and murdered in the Superdome. And the corpses laid out amid the excrement
in the convention centre.
In a week filled with dreadful scenes of desperation and anger from New Orleans
following Hurricane Katrina some stories stood out.
But as time goes on many remain unsubstantiated and may yet prove to
New Orleans police have been unable to confirm the tale of the raped
child, or indeed any of the reports of rapes, in the Superdome and convention
New Orleans police chief Eddie Compass said last night: "We don't
have any substantiated rapes. We will investigate if the individuals
And while many claim they happened, no witnesses, survivors or survivors'
relatives have come forward.
Nor has the source for the story of the murdered babies, or indeed
their bodies, been found. And while the floor of the convention centre toilets
were indeed covered in excrement, the Guardian found no corpses.
During a week when communications were difficult, rumours have acquired a particular
currency. They acquired through repetition the status of established facts.
One French journalist from the daily newspaper Libération was given
precise information that 1,200 people had drowned at Marion Abramson school
on 5552 Read Boulevard. Nobody at the Federal Emergency Management Agency or
the New Orleans police force has been able to verify that.
But then Fema could not confirm there were thousands of people at the convention
centre until they were told by the press for the simple reason that they did
"Katrina's winds have left behind an information vacuum. And that vacuum
has been filled by rumour.
"There is nothing to correct wild reports that armed gangs have
taken over the convention centre," wrote Associated Press writer,
"You can report them but you at least have to say they are unsubstantiated
and not pass them off as fact," said one Baltimore-based journalist.
"But nobody is doing that."
Either way these rumours have had an effect.
Reports of the complete degradation and violent criminals running rampant in
the Superdome suggested a crisis that both hastened the relief effort and demonised
those who were stranded.
By the end of last week the media in Baton Rouge reported that evacuees from
New Orleans were carjacking and that guns and knives were being seized in local
shelters where riots were erupting.
The local mayor responded accordingly.
"We do not want to inherit the looting and all the other foolishness that
went on in New Orleans," Kip Holden was told the Baton Rouge Advocate.
"We do not want to inherit that breed that seeks to prey on other people."
The trouble, wrote Howard Witt of the Chicago Tribune is that "scarcely
any of it was true - the police confiscated a single knife from a refugee in
one Baton Rouge shelter".
"There were no riots in Baton Rouge. There were no armed hordes."
Similarly when the first convoy of national guardsmen went into New Orleans
approached the convention centre they were ordered to "lock and load".
But when they arrived they were confronted not by armed mobs but a nurse wearing
a T-shirt that read "I love New Orleans".
"She ran down a broken escalator, then held her hands in the air when
she saw the guns," wrote the LA Times.
"We have sick kids up here!" she shouted.
"We have dehydrated kids! One kid with sickle cell!"