Katrina’s aftermath: the New Orleans “looter” as framed by the media.

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Jessica Lynn Priesmeyer (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site: http://library.uncg.edu/
Gwen Hunnicutt

Abstract: In the days following Hurricane Katrina, the media portrayed the people inside New Orleans as a threat rather than a population in need. It was looters, in particular, who were portrayed in this deviant light and they were well publicized in the media coverage in Katrina’s aftermath. However, sociological research is limited in terms of examining looting, especially in the wake of a disaster. This research explores how looters were socially constructed after Hurricane Katrina within three prominent US newspapers: The New York Times, The Washington Post and Chicago Tribune.

This research addresses three questions. First, how have Hurricane Katrina looters been framed by the news media? Second, how have Hurricane Katrina looters been differentially framed by these three powerful continuum of voices? Lastly, were media frames of perceived Katrina looters instrumental in re-establishing social order?

Based on a frame analysis of newspaper articles in The New York Times, The Washington Post and Chicago Tribune, four primary looting frames emerged: property crime, lawlessness, policing, and race. The extracted looting frames provide insight into how the media portrayed those who looted after Hurricane Katrina. The unfolding of the analysis told a unique sociological story by bringing the New Orleans looter to life.

The underlying idea of the looter after Katrina took on an ill-famed or villainous tone. According to media reports, looters vandalized, ran wild among the city and required “tough policing” in order to contain their behavior. It was the media that served as a social force that helped create and move these ideas about looting.

The portrayal of the looter in this light becomes of great importance in the moment after a disaster takes place: the moment in which society realizes that utter chaos has replaced the normal social order. It is at this time when people pull together and set aside their differences. However, this warm and fuzzy feeling of wanting to pull together as one does not sustain itself for long. After Katrina, it was the claims of looting that broke this romanticized feeling of social justice for all. Looting rumors at this time contribute to the re-establishment of social order or in another way, bring back old societal order. This is accomplished because looters are a way of establishing us (the good guys) and them (the bad guys) once again in a time in which all social order is for a moment lost. In other words, singling out the looter becomes a way to make sense of the chaos; brings back stratification; brings back something that is familiar and maybe even comforting to those that hold more power in society. Claims of looting were powerful in this way because it was based on the age old struggle between the “haves” and “havenots.”

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2010
Disaster Research, Frame Analysis, Hurricane Katrina, Looter, Looting, Media Studies
Hurricane Katrina, 2005 $x Press coverage $z Louisiana $z New Orleans.
Disaster victims $z Louisiana $z New Orleans.
Robbery $x Press coverage $z Loisiana $z New Orleans.
Hurricane Katrina, 2005 $x Economic aspects $z Louisiana $z New Orleans.
Hurricane Katrina, 2005 $x Social aspects $z Louisiana $z New Orleans.

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