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Gibson Whines: Looters Not Being Shot on Sight

Reported by Judy - August 31, 2005

The entire city of New Orleans may be abandoned for two or three months, thousands of people are feared dead, bodies are floating in streets, people remain trapped on rooftops without food or water in the stifling heat, and John Gibson is worried about people taking a few pairs of pants out of a ruined store.

What is wrong with him?

During "The Big Story" on Wednesday (August 31, 2005), John Gibson spent a lot of time on looting, people fighting over gasoline (without documenting a single incident), and interviews with cops, but he never managed to squeeze in a single interview with an actual suffering human being.

Orlando Salinas, reporting from Gulfport, Mississippi, started off the drumbeat on looting in his report on devastation there. While talking about refrigerated trucks serving as extra storage room for funeral homes, Salinas suddenly segued into looting, "They are telling us that in some cases, they have found people actually walking inside people's homes, stepping over people's bodies, and looting the homes. We spoke with one officer who said he'd just as soon shoot 'em on sight, tag a sticker on them that says 'looter' and leave it that way. John."

Salinas' account is highly dubious. In fact, it is so vague that it sounds made up. One officer with what force? Mississippi state police, county sheriff, local police, who? If other media report the incident, hopefully they will have better information. And if they could supply it, why can't Salinas?

Before the commercial breaks during the program, Gibson several times ran the same video of a young black boy running and promoed information on looting to come later. At 5:25 p.m.: The conditions in New Orleans "may be bringing out the worst traits in people, from looters ransacking stores to people fighting over gas at the pumps." At 5:43: "Security threats and what police are doing about looting and armed looting."

A few minutes later, Gibson said that "looters are running wild" and proceeded to interview John Timoney, Miami chief of police, who knew nothing about the situation in New Orleans. Gibson complained he had seen video showing that "looters are stripping stores right in front of a police officer who, I guess, feels the situation isn't so dire that he has to shot them."

Timoney lectured Gibson that, "The old days of shooting looters, I think, is behind us." He added that the priority in a small police department, as over-extended as New Orleans' is right now, has to be to save lives first and worry about property second.

Gibson replayed the tape of the young black male running away during the interview, and tried to goad Timoney further by noting that some looters are stealing guns.

Big deal. Guns are legal in this country. Anybody who wants one can get them. Guns are supposed to make us safe, right? Why is it all of a sudden a big deal that SOME people are stealing guns?

As for looting, most of what is in those stores is worthless to the owner. Clothes in stores that have water on the floor and no air conditioning for weeks will be covered with bugs and mold. Food in stores will be rotten. Okay, maybe diamonds will come through unscathed, but let it go. The stuff is insured. (Just ask Fred Barnes.)

Rescue people first. In times like these, people are all that matter.

You couldn't tell that from Gibson's show, though. Anita Vogel did a live spot amongst a crowd of refugees being brought to a dry stretch of I-10 near the Super Dome. Although she said there were hundreds of people streaming in after being rescued by boat or helicopter from downtown, she never bothered to interview any of them.

"The stories, I can tell you, are just heart-breaking. We've talked to a lot of people who have been without food and water and in some cases medicine for days," she said. Then she went to an interview with a state police officer who said the storm was "the worst I've ever seen."

It was a strangely unmoving interview in the midst of such suffering. Couldn't we have heard from one person who was rescued, to let them talk about it in their own words?

Gibson also did an interview with a Coast Guard official involved in the helicopter rescue. Again, interviews with law enforcement and military people, nothing from the people who were rescued. If you want that kind of emotional, human story, go to the print media, like The New York Times. Fox isn't interested in it.

Gibson also aired George Bush's five minute talk on disaster relief. It was the least inspiring speech I've ever heard in such circumstances -- a list of how many blankets, cots, and MRE's are on the way, the meetings he has conducted, and some cliches, poorly chosen and woodenly delivered, tossed in. "I cannot tell you how devastating the sites were." And, "Right now the losses seem awfully dark for those affected and I understand that. But I am confident that with time, you'll get your life back in order, new communities will flourish, the great city of New Orleans will be back on its feet, and America will be a stronger place for it. The country stands with you. We'll do all in our power to help you."

It was a bland, bureaucratic speech, devoid of any human touch or sense of the depth of suffering people were enduring. Bill Clinton turned his presidency around when he went to the memorial service in Oklahoma City after the bombing of the federal building there. People laughed when he hugged a woman in Des Moines after flooding there and told her, "I feel your pain."

But Clinton connected with common people in a way this pampered jerk never will be able to. Bush, the self-proclaimed compassionate conservative, clearly has none.

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