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Conservatively liberal, moderately well-educated, and highly opinionated...

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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Will the Real Eddie Compass Please Stand Up

The resignation of New Orleans Police Chief Eddie Compass can be viewed from many angles. Defenders will say the endless stress finally got to him. Conspiracists will suspect Compass to be the “fall guy” for his superiors (interesting thought, actually). Detractors will say he embellished and lied to the press. Frankly, I’ve wondered why that would be. It’s not as if there wasn’t plenty of grist for the media mill.

To me, the story from Oprah Winfrey's team is one of the most compelling - and confounding. According to Michelle Roberts with the Associated Press, Oprah’s interviews with Nagin and Compass took place on September 6, when she was greeted by Chief Compass, who "says he believes that there are easily thousands of dead people in the city". Furthermore, he was

disturbed by what he saw inside the Superdome. The horrors there will haunt him the rest of his life. "We had little babies in there, little babies getting raped.”

In light of recent reality checks about the rumored atrocities in the Superdome, what bothers me most about Oprah’s report is that Compass apparently said he saw these things.

How, then, do I reconcile Oprah’s story with this one from the Guardian Unlimited, which is also from September 6. This time, Compass is quoted as saying,

We don't have any substantiated rapes."

The Guardian story goes on to say,

Nor has the source for the story of the murdered babies, or indeed their bodies, been found.”

Can both stories be true? Clearly not. Unfortunately, this abysmal lack of clarity, combined with the media hysteria, may have combined to amplify (if not create) the conditions endured by the suffering, and increasingly terrified, people in New Orleans.

reasononline discussed this possibility in a story called The Deadly Bigotry of Low Expectations?, which also ran September 6. The subtitle on the story really says it all: Did the rumor mill help kill Katrina victims? A small excerpt:

And it's entirely possible that, like the chimeric Baton Rouge hordes, exaggerations about New Orleans' criminality affected policy, mostly by delaying rescue operations and the provision of aid.

So – how can these conflicting reports be resolved? I don’t know, but I feel they must be. If the hype and hysteria caused further misery and delayed relief, as Reason suspected three weeks ago, then the investigations into Katrina relief problems need to radically broaden their scope. This must not be swept under the rug.