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This is the End, My Only Friend

September 9, 2005

Democracy Now! interviews Jacquie Soohen of Big Noise films about her recent experience in New Orleans:

JACQUIE SOOHEN: Well, the experience with the police was two days ago. We were filming in the Ninth Ward, which is one of the more dangerous areas, supposedly, but also one of the hardest hit areas, and one of the areas where a lot of rescue operations haven’t gone into, especially the Lower Ninth Ward. And we were just on the edge of that and we were filming with another photographer and a journalist. Curfew was approaching, but it wasn’t quite there yet, and we had gone about the city at the same time of night, other times. And all of a sudden, out of nowhere, literally, there were four SUVs and a Humvee pulled up, and without any warning, D.E.A., Border Patrol, Louisiana Police Department and National Guard forces came out with their guns raised, pointed at our heads, and said, “Looters will be shot!” And we just began yelling as fast as we could, “We’re press! We’re press! We’re press!” And I had my camera in my hand while that was going on. And they kept yelling at us, “Looters will be shot!” for — this went on for a little while.

AMY GOODMAN: Were you with a resident of the Ninth Ward?

JACQUIE SOOHEN: We were with a resident of the Ninth Ward, who was also okay. We were all okay in the end. We talked them down. We were able to tell them we would just leave as quickly as possible, they also wanted to make sure that the resident of the Ninth Ward left. He was planning on staying, but they wanted to make sure that he left with us.

And I think what we did was we experienced more than anything, I mean, martial law as it was being enacted upon the city and the fear that it was causing in all of the residents, and the very next day, there were—I got two more phone calls from residents who were inside, who had suddenly decided to leave because they said they were being harassed and intimidated by the police, being searched on street corners, having guns pointed at them.

AMY GOODMAN: To say the least, you have been in a lot of dangerous situations. How did this rate in—you know, how afraid were you?

JACQUIE SOOHEN: I have to say that both me and the other journalist who was with me, both of us who have covered the Iraq war, this was one of the more frightening situations, because they really—I really had the impression that they were willing to shoot anybody and anything. They were incredibly energized, incredibly amped up, and also that that whole area was very lawless, as was said, but the police had a fear and they were willing to — really willing to intimidate anybody who was there.

What was eerie was also, though, it looked a lot like Iraq. I mean, the only times that we did see National Guard, they were patrolling the streets in the same way in the Ninth Ward, whereas in downtown area, they were perhaps more friendly, talking to people, etc. In that area of the city, it very much looked like an occupied city. They were walking in formation. They had their guns out and pointed at the houses. So it was kind of—it was very frightening to see that in our country.

As always superlative work over there at Democracy Now! Read the whole transcript. Or watch. Or listen.
Is the Government Trying to Stem the Tide of Images From New Orleans by Threatening Journalists?

2 Comments
  1. September 10, 2005 11:16 AM

    In the LA Times this morning, Tim Rutten writes about efforts to prevent or ban photojournalists from presenting a “negative image” of the disaster or relief efforts. From the piece:

    FEMA spokeswoman: “We have requested that no photographs of the deceased be made by the media.”

    Rutten: “FEMA’s leaders showed little enough concern for the people of New Orleans when they were alive. The notion that they’re now concerned with their dignity and privacy in death is frankly laughable.”

    Former FEMA head Michael Brown, in a memo requesting federal workers to assist rescuers in New Orleans, wrote that “part of the workers’ assignment would be to ‘convey a positive image of disaster operations to government officials, community organizations and the general public.'”

    Rutten: “It’s very hard to ‘convey a positive image’ when the ‘general public’ sees you stacking corpses like cordwood.”

  2. September 11, 2005 10:24 PM

    Avoiding lawsuits, clarifying statements. This ‘free press’ thing is a pain in the ass sometimes.

    Avoiding lawsuits:

    Rather than fight a lawsuit by CNN, the federal government abandoned its effort Saturday to prevent the media from reporting on the recovery of the dead in New Orleans.

    CNN.com: U.S. won’t ban media from New Orleans searches – Sep 10, 2005

    Clarifying statements:

    “There’s not a directive,” he said. “It’s just a request that FEMA people have made to members of the media.”

    Poynter Online: Covering Katrina

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