Looting, finding, and blogging

Much is being made of the “looting” versus “finding” picture captions on Yahoo! and the implied racism of the black people looting and the white people finding. I don’t think it warrants the blogerati outrage it’s generating.

It should be pointed out that the “looting” caption is from the Associated Press and the “finding” one is from Agence France-Presse. So not only did two different editorial staffs issue those captions, but one of them is a translation from French. If Yahoo! actually put these right next to each other that was at best not managing an automated setup and at worst a shoddy piece of layout.

Maybe there’s other bad coverage like this, but comparing those two particular captions isn’t going to be fruitful.

I do think that showing America’s {white|black|blue|orange} underclass looting after a spectacular natural disaster is unhelpful and a form of fear porn for the middle class watching their TVs. Look what happens when disaster strikes! All those tweaker skinheads, gangbangers, and welfare moms will come to your house and take your widescreen TV! Dogs and cats, living together. PANIC GODDAMN YOU!

During the L.A. Riots there was a shitload of looting which was pretty much done by everyone who felt like it. Friends of mine living in a lower middle class part of South L.A. had their neighbors ring the doorbell and say “We’re going to the mall to loot. Wanna come?” and college kids busted into the Ralphs to get the good liquor, while at the same time people in South L.A. were looting bottled water and diapers because everything was going to be shut the fuck down for a week. My friend Rhonda saw a woman loot one shoe from a Payless near her house on Crenshaw. She said “Woman, what in the world are you doing to do with one shoe?” and the lady just flipped her off and got in her car.

During the Blitz in London, a time that we’re supposed to remember as Brave Little England bearing up with grace under bombs, it was common for thieves to go into theatres and similar places after the alerts had gone off to find purses and valuables that had been dropped in the panic to get to the shelters.

Cyril Connolly wrote of this phenomenon: “Perfect fear driveth out love”.

30 thoughts on “Looting, finding, and blogging

  1. That thing has been driving me nuts all day. So many bloggers want to be the new wave of journalism and meta-reporting — checking and understanding the nature of sources must be too old-school.

    1. The new wave.
      There have been a few flaps here and there with actual, real journalists not being old-school enough in this regard, but the bloggers never were. They never were, but they like to pretend.
      It all makes me want to do something, but I’m having trouble deciding between red-in-the-face ranting and crawling under the couch to hide.

      1. Re: The new wave.
        And with the internet, you can get the best of both worlds – ranting while hiding under your couch.

      2. Re: The new wave.
        No argument there — I just love the schadenthingy of seeing “A-list bloggers” become the next era of faxlore and email forwards.

  2. yeah, they weren’t next to each other at all. i couldn’t even locate the “finding” picture in the same slideshow as the “looting” one, although i don’t doubt it’s there. if it is, it’s hundreds of pictures back. got tired of looking.
    people are dummies.

  3. It almost seems like people WANT to find some kind of racism in this whole thing. There’s a web hosting company in NO that’s been up and running through the hurricane — they left a handful of people in their office to keep things going. Those people kept a journal during the storm, and at one point described the looters they could see from their windows “monkeys” and “animals”. Of course one of the very first responses to this was to call racism.
    It is a pretty cool journal too, although it seems likely an overly heroic effort just to keep a bunch of websites up.

  4. During the Rodney Kind riots, Kids from my HIGH SCHOOL were driving up to Los Angleles in their parents MINI VANS to LOOT.
    For some it’s neccesity, ie: NEED TO FEED CHILDREN
    For some it’s a distraction from the REALITY of the situation, ie: Oh crap my home and everything else I had is gone, PANIC!
    For some it’s the sheer joy of taking shit for free and selling it later on.
    Whatever. As you said, It’s not a friggin race thing, It’s a people in desperate emotional or physical shape.
    So, Well said my dear! As usual!

  5. 1) New Orleans is destroyed. If it is rebuilt, all the stuff people stole (and I don’t consider breaking into a Walgreens for food and medicine “stealing”) will have to be written off, anyway, since it will not be salvageable once it’s been underwater for the two weeks it will take to pump all that water out of the basin.
    2) New Orleans may not be rebuilt at all. It’s hard to see how that could happen without multiple tens of billions of dollars of cash inflow, and it’s hard to see how that expenditure can be justified given that a Cat 5 hurricane would destroy it all — again. If it’s not rebuilt, New Orleans will be our first Dhalgrenesque post-apocalyptic urban wasteland.
    3) Right now, New Orleans is under a total evacuation order. People are going to have to leave the stuff they stole behind when they evacuate; if they eventually can come back to the city, see (1) above about unsalvageability. And if they never come back, or refuse to evacuate, see (2) above about “urban wasteland”.

    1. I agree.
      I really can’t fault people for taking stuff from stores when there isn’t any commerce any more anyhow. If they heist beer as well as diapers it’s not very important to me, and it shouldn’t be to anyone. As I said most of the coverage is just fearmongering pointed at people with property.
      There is a distinction between that and just ripping off people’s stuff or trying to bust into the children’s hospital, etc. etc. The shitty people will always do shitty things, and they do them even more during a disaster.

      1. Re: I agree.
        For God’s sake, who down there could deny anyone a beer right now?
        The horror is slowly creeping in. This is unbelievable, except I do believe it. I find myself remembering that all of the words people use to exaggerate have actual, applicable meanings. It is strange.
        Such a strange day.

  6. I took an urban politics class (psst, urban means black) in college and got into trouble for referring to the L.A. “riots” while most of my classmates used terms like “rebellion” and “uprising.” I explained that I wasn’t attaching any value to the word “riot,” merely using the word most commonly given to that event. Some people disagreed with me. They responded that language necessarily contains political implications, and the astute languagizer should understand these implications, for example deciding whether to say “detainee” vs. “POW.” I understood the point, especially in extreme cases like that, but I don’t think it’s asking too much to look at the context in which people use words before rushing to decide if they are playing code-words games. The first word that comes to mind when I see people running into broken stores and coming out with stuff is “looting,” but that’s not a condemnation or value judgment of any kind. It’s just like, “Oh look, looting. I’d be doing it too.” But I guess, if it would really make people feel better, I could say “salvaging” or “surviving” instead.

    1. People who use the word “uprising” or “rebellion” to describe the Los Angeles Riots make me very angry. It was not a revolution, it was assholes settling scores and taking stuff and burning stuff.
      Ivory tower socialists and opportunistic black politicians seized on that. The unfortunate people who had their neighborhoods trashed, almost all of them poor and disadvantaged in every way to start with, were not appreciative. When you’ve just had your bank and your grocery store burned down, you have no electricity, and your home-based business loses half its customers, it doesn’t feel so much like anyone is sticking it to the Man.
      A Persian cab driver put this in perspective. He said “This was not a revolution, just a riot. You know, I was in the revolution in Iran. And they broke into the banks and blew open the safes. And then they burned the money because it had the Shah’s picture on it. That was a revolution. This was just stupid.”

  7. Not that you care, but my stupid post was not directed at you. I appreciate that you have something to say beyond
    “New Orleans is gone! We have lost a CITY, people! For good!
    (optional: And Bush is on VACATION!!!)
    [reaction shot]”
    So thanks for that.

    1. I agree about the bozosphere “response”. I don’t need my disaster updates from BoingBoing or Kottke, ya know? Unless there’s some commentary of interest it’s dumb to repaste AP photos with exclamation points added.
      And thanks.

  8. You know, I deleted my post with the photo montage in question, and I commented in ‘s journal to relay the info you posted here, the poor English translation of the French, etc., which prompted him to post a Correction in his journal, along with comments disabled (he has some two thousand people listing his journal here on LJ), but now I’m trying to find the proof that the AFP photo caption is an English translation, and inaccurate at that, and how is that done?
    This is the link to the photo
    This is the link to the photo with story accompanying
    In the interest of accurate reporting, since you prompted me to delete, and I prompted a very popular blogger to print a correction, how do we determine this was a direct translation? Are we to assume the photo was taken by a French photojournalist in New Orleans? Or was the photo transferred by wire to the AFP, who later posted it to their web site, and printed a caption, which Yahoo! then translated? I’m starting to doubt the inaccuracy.

    1. Whether it was translated or not, it’s still two DIFFERENT news agencies using different words. It’s not one news agency using “looting” only for black people.
      I made the assumption that the caption writer’s first language was not English because the photo came through AFP. Even if that assumption is incorrect we still don’t have the case of one editorial staff choosing “finding” for white people and “looting” for black people.
      I can’t see how two different photo captions from two different agencies about two different photos can be conflated into “the media is being racist” just because both photos were syndicated onto one online news site. The translation possibility is just extra.

      1. I don’t know, I think you fed further misinformation. Your assumption is merely that, not fact, and it was my mistake to trust you knew what you were writing about. 🙂
        Regardless of who used the word ‘looting’ and who used the word ‘finding’, for anyone to label what a black person is doing as looting and for anyone else to label two white people doing the same as merely ‘finding’ is indeed racism. I’m not sure how you’re not seeing that. I feel bad that I prompted the guy to print a correction based on more misinformation. But I’ll get over it.

      2. I still disagree and you’re not seeing my point.
        for anyone to label what a black person is doing as looting and for anyone else to label two white people doing the same as merely ‘finding’ is indeed racism
        That makes no sense. Two different people using two different words for two different events, and it’s racist? How?
        If you can’t think logically, don’t accuse me of misinforming. It’s insulting and unwarranted.
        If you can find this mysterious racist who made sure that two different photos on Yahoo!, unconnected, from two different news servicefs, somehow got “looting” for the black guy and “finding” for the white guy, let me know. Otherwise no one has proved any such thing.
        If you just want to enjoy the angry liberal meme du jour, then carry on. You’re just choosing which assumption to follow and not thinking critically anyway.

      3. I’m just trying to get to the bottom of it. It is entirely possible that one person re-writes captions for the Yahoo! site. Maybe there is a small staff. Maybe the AP writes the captions over the AFP photos they receive. Clearly some info was added to the original caption. I’m not going to make assumptions either way, just curious.
        If you just want to enjoy the angry liberal meme du jour, then carry on.
        I’m not into those kinds of labels, I read all types of journals.

    2. What difference does any of that make? Whether it was an AFP translation, or a Yahoo! translation plus a cut-and-paste of an AP caption, or the AFP Washington bureau and the AP Washington bureau, or two Yahoo-written captions to otherwise uncaptioned photos, it’s speculation pretending to be reporting. If they want to break a story rather than attract attention and page views, it’s two phone calls to each agency’s office to find out whether they wrote the caption in question.
      You can even approximate that sort of research by looking at more images on Yahoo! News. I searched for floodwaters and looting and found the same stock phrase, “Rescuers struggled to reach stranded survivors of Hurricane Katrina as floodwaters and looting wreaked further havoc along the US Gulf coast with hundreds feared dead”, on a couple dozen AFP photo captions and zero other news agencies’ captions — so either Yahoo is running AFP-provided captions, or there’s one person who is captioning AFP photos at Yahoo but not captioning any other agencies’ photos. Similarly, you can see that AP and only AP caption images with a comment about how waters continue to rise.
      So there’s some evidence that the captions came from different sources, whatever those sources were, with ten minutes’ online research, and I’m not even someone carrying the story. Imagine what checking sources could accomplish!
      No-one’s claiming that the wording difference doesn’t reflect some sort of institutionalized racism or classism (there are “looters” photos with Hispanic people, too, and very few photos of white people with supplies at all); the problem is that it’s presented as evidence of some sort of racism without any investigation as to how photos get captioned at Yahoo. That’s journalistic laziness and sensationalism, and it discredits bloggers’ claims of being the next wave of journalists.

      1. The rest was added, by someone who clearly does not view white people taking food as looters.
        That makes no sense. Captions have a short and long version, almost always. Captions get changed, too; do you have a timestamp that proves the caption had the “finding” word added?
        And if the “finding” word was added, how does that prove that the completely different news organization that used the word “looting” had anything at all to do with the difference in captions between this photo and the one of the black guy?
        There is exactly one way in which this discrepancy could have been deliberately racist, and that’s if some editor at Yahoo! went through all pictures of people taking stuff during the disaster and carefully changed all white people to “finding” and all black people to “looting”.
        Otherwise it’s just an assumption because two photos with different captions were shoveled onto one web site.

      2. Mon Aug 29, 8:54 PM ET is the time on the Yahoo! page.
        30/08/2005 00h54 is the time on the Russian AFP page. I’m not sure the time difference between Russia and ET, and really I am not looking to prove this to you, or try to express my own opinions to you – we do not think at all alike – this is for my own benefit. I only feel badly that I caused someone to print a correction in his journal based on possibly false information. That’s my real point. But that’s my issue, not yours.

      3. You’re right that we don’t think alike.
        Please just stop telling me I don’t know what I’m talking about and leave me alone. This is making me tired.

      4. Okay, I’ll follow suit and remove you too. I enjoyed a lot of your posts, and I wish you well with your treatments and such. Good luck to you. 🙂

    3. The bottom line is that blogs are not news sources, so what you choose to do with information you find on blogs should be tempered by the fact that there are no guarantees offered or implied, no one checking facts, no staff of editors, no lawyers, and no interest in what you take away from them. Getting cranky about making a choice based on a blog seems about on par with getting upset over having your paper failed because you used wikipedia as a primary source.

  9. I had the good fortune to not run into any of this looting versus finding nonsense as I don’t really read any blogs of note. That said, I did notice a lot of photos of poor black folks struggling and desperate and a lot of photos of clean and very very white guys with military rifles protecting. I found that kind of weird but am loathe to draw any conclusions.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.