Sunday, September 04, 2005

Who Really Knows Who Shot Who?

The Associated Press experienced some technical difficulties early Sunday evening, which caused problems for the national and international media, who appeared to be playing catch-up to the A.P.

It had to do with a story called "Police Kill Five Contractors on La. Bridge" which can - at this present time - still be read at The Guardian's Website (I'm reprinting it in full just in case it goes poof!):

"NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Police shot eight people carrying guns on a New Orleans bridge Sunday, killing five or six, a deputy chief said. A spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers said the victims were contractors on their way to repair a canal."

"The contractors were walking across a bridge on their way to launch barges into Lake Pontchartrain to fix the 17th Street Canal, said John Hall, a spokesman for the Corps."

"Earlier Sunday, New Orleans Deputy Police Chief W.J. Riley said police shot at eight people, killing five or six."

"The shootings took place on the Danziger Bridge, which spans a canal connecting Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi River."

"No other details were immediately available."

A helluva story if it were true.

And a helluva story if it were false.

But the latter story hardly gets reported, at least in this century. While the media runs more than it's share of false stories, it hardly ever explains the story about what went wrong with the reporting in the first place.

Unless there's an outcry. But will there be an outcry this time? Or will it just be ignored?

The A.P. put the breaks on the story but - so far - there is no news on why.

A warning about the story seems to have been accidentally posted on a Western New York NBC affiliate Website, WSTM, at approximately 6:30 PM eastern. Here's a screen grab (just in case it's replaced):

The warning reads:

"Stations: The latest New Orleans-datelined urgent series Hurricane Katrina-Shootings has been KILLED. The Army Corps of Engineers says the contractors were shot at, then police fatally shot the gunmen who'd fired on the contractors. The contractors were NOT killed."

"A kill is mandatory. Make certain the story is not broadcast."

"A sub will be filed shortly."

"AP Broadcast News Center - Washington."

Shortly after, at Yahoo News, "Police Kill Five Contractors on La. Bridge" transformed into "Gunmen Attack Contractors on La. Bridge."

The newer Associated Press version (once again, I'm reprinting it in full for the sake of posterity):

"NEW ORLEANS - Police shot and killed at least five people Sunday after gunmen opened fire on a group of contractors traveling across a bridge on their way to make repairs, authorities said."

"Deputy Police Chief W.J. Riley said police shot at eight people carrying guns, killing five or six."

"Fourteen contractors were traveling across the Danziger Bridge under police escort when they came under fire, said John Hall, a spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers."

"They were on their way to launch barges into Lake Pontchartrain to help plug the breech in the 17th Street Canal, Hall said."

"None of the contractors was injured, Mike Rogers, a disaster relief coordinator with the Army Corps of Engineers, told reporters in Baton Rouge."

"The bridge spans a canal connecting Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi River."

"No other details were immediately available."

Did the Associated Press have to relisten to their tape or did they get back in touch with Army Corps Spokesman John Hall? How could anyone forget such a key detail - if it were true: "under police escort?"

As I write this, Reuters just posted a new version entitled "New Orleans police kill looters in shoot-out" which only adds to the confusion:

"New Orleans police killed four looters who had opened fire on them on Sunday as rescue teams scoured homes and toxic waters flooding streets to find survivors and recover thousands of bloated corpses."

"A fifth looter was in critical condition but no more details were available about the incident in a city where authorities are slowly regaining control after a wave of looting, murders and rapes in the wake of Hurricane Katrina."

""Five men who were looting exchanged gunfire with police. The officers engaged the looters when they were fired upon," said New Orleans superintendent of police, Steven Nichols."

"U.S. Army Corps of Engineers contractors working on a levee breach were fired on by gunmen but no one was hurt, said the Corps' Mike Rogers. It was not clear if the two incidents were connected."

It's not clear what the hell went on at the bridge at all.

Kurosawa's classic film Rashomon gave the viewer different versions of the same story but they were from the point of view of different characters.

The Associated Press gave their readers different views of the same story but they were told by the same character, an unbylined reporter, no less.

But - regardless of what happened - the ever changing stories that occur so much during times like these should be examined, explained and reported on.

Not scrubbed from the Web forever.

When the Associated Press writes a story, especially during a heightened state of anxiety, that hundreds of thousands of people read - just not necessarily the same version - then that means that the Associated Press has failed miserably at its job.

Is it all about ratings and hits? Or is there some other agenda?

News organizations have a responsibility to stand by what they write. If they screw up they owe their readers a full explanation. Not just a rewrite that still is not definitive, as in this case.

Otherwise why the hell should anyone ever believe them again.

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(I had to make a slight correction on September 18th. As Luke pointed out in the Haloscan comments I accidently substituted "gunman" for "gunmen" in the Associated Press warning I transcribed.)


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