Katrina: message control, patterns of press access denial?

Image: evacuee receiving medical care at Houston Astrodome, Jacob Appelbaum.

Snip from a post on NBC correspondent Brian Williams' blog:

While we were attempting to take pictures of the National Guard (a unit from Oklahoma) taking up positions outside a Brooks Brothers on the edge of the Quarter, the sergeant ordered us to the other side of the boulevard. The short version is: there won't be any pictures of this particular group of Guard soldiers on our newscast tonight. Rules (or I suspect in this case an order on a whim) like those do not HELP the palpable feeling that this area is somehow separate from the United States.

Josh Marshall says:

Take a moment to note what's happening here: these are the marks of repressive government, which mixes inefficiency with authoritarianism. The crew that couldn't get key aid on the scene in time last week is coming in in force now. And one of the key missions appears to be cutting off public information about what's happening in the city.

Reporters Without Borders reports at least 2 cases of police confiscating or destroying reporters' camera gear in New Orleans.

When [police] realized [Toronto Star photographer Lucas Oleniuk] had photographed them hitting looters, they hurled him to the ground, grabbed his two cameras and removed memory cards containing around 350 pictures.

Several reports of "potemkin relief" — staged scenarios for photo opps, including this news clip (in German) of a German correspondent reporting on the hurricane aftermath in the US. She says she witnessed a scene near Biloxi in which — all of a sudden — a number of relief workers appeared right before Bush arrived at the area. Once the president left, as did the bus with all of the reporters trailing him, the relief workers also disappeared.

From Andrew Sullivan's blog, a call to arms for photobloggers:

FEMA is trying to censor the reality in New Orleans, under the guise of "respect" for the dead. Money quote:

[O]n Tuesday, FEMA refused to take reporters and photographers along on boats seeking victims in flooded areas, saying they would take up valuable space need in the recovery effort and asked them not to take pictures of the dead. In an e-mail explaining the decision, a FEMA spokeswoman wrote: "The recovery of victims is being treated with dignity and the utmost respect and we have requested that no photographs of the deceased by made by the media."

The press should ignore those requests, get boats themselves and show the world what has actually happened. (Hey, much of the media was ahead of FEMA during the worst of it. Why not again now?) That goes for any intrepid bloggers with camera-phones or anyone else who can slip through the censorship net. If necessary, faces can be blurred to protect the dignity of the dead. But it matters that we see the full consequences of government delinquency. That's what the press is for. Ignore FEMA. Photobloggers, here's an opportunity for important and necessary work.

And a somewhat contrary report on the "no photos of NOLA dead" — snip from this Poynter item:

A FEMA spokesman said Thursday that the agency hopes news organizations won't show dead bodies as part of their coverage of Hurricane Katrina, but acknowledged that such coverage decisions lie with editors, not government officials. "Decisions about running photos are up to members of the news media," said Mark Pfeifle. "Out of respect for the deceased [and their families] … FEMA has asked that images not be shown. But it's up to the media whether they're shown or not." "There's not a directive," he said. "It's just a request that FEMA people have made to members of the media."

In this SF Chronicle item, a reporter recounts a story of heavily armed cops/troops nearly shooting him while he made a cellphone call outside their quarters: Link

(Thanks, Todd Lappin, A.V., Lucas Hoekstra)