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Hurricane Katrina


Media can convey various messages to the audience. They do not only inform the public, but also present particular ideas, emotions, beliefs, and stereotypes. Media coverage of hurricane Katrina is a good representation of a race-based message because it shows how media manipulated racial issues while remaining an influential tool for constructing a social image and public reaction. It is also a good example of social transformation and change as a result of racial issues. Hurricane Katrina coverage did not only impact the media, but it also showed how people could impact media in their return.

Racial Coverage Background

Hurricane Katrina received a lot of media coverage. It involved racism like the description of the black man carrying some food in a flooded street and the white couple in an analogical situation. The photo controversy started because of different descriptions under the photos. People in both photos carried very similar sets of products and walked on the similar flooded streets. Still, the black man was described as someone who robbed the store. That was why he had the food with him. The whites, on the other hand, were described as people who had found the food. Thus, the Associated Press that released these similar pictures with such different captions started a huge racial controversy due to the different treatment of people from different races.

The Associated Press tried to explain the controversy later on. They explained that a correspondent saw the man looting the food from the store, while the journalist also saw that the couple had found the food (Kahle, Yu, & Whiteside, 2007). Nevertheless, the information was published after the controversy and had already attracted a lot of attention. It showed the mistake the news agency made. The message this information had carried was used only to strengthen the racial stereotypes.

Tendencies, Reaction, and Impact

People who have seen the two pictures for the first time without reading the AP’s later explanation may come up with some typical conclusions. The readers may see the continuation of tendency of racial portrayal. The picture of a black man uses some negative stereotypes about black people. These prejudices state as follows. Black people are more often in gangs than whites; they are more dangerous and not decent, etc. They prove the shallow perception people have while judging a person by the color of one’s skin and appeal to the stereotyping in the media (Kahle, Yu, & Whiteside, 2007). Thus, the controversy has showed the stereotypical tendency to associate black people with criminal activities, various crimes, and violent acts.

It is important to analyze other articles that appeared in the light of this hurricane aftermath. The media often exaggerated the amount and gravity of crimes being done during a natural disaster. They often referred to criminals as blacks omitting the crimes done by whites (Sommers, Apfelbaum, Dukes, Toosi, & Wang, 2006). Besides, the whites were often portrayed in heroic roles while blacks were described either as helpless victims or violent criminals benefitting from the disaster (Kahle, Yu, & Whiteside, 2007). For instance, the media have used the word refugee more than they have used the word evacuee comparing to describing other natural disasters (Masquelier, 2006). This word has a negative connotation. It is used mostly to describe people who have suffered from wars, civil conflicts, poverty, and, thus, were forced to leave their homes. Besides, the media often compared refugees with the persons suffering from disasters in Africa. However, this tendency was not present while describing other natural disasters that took place in America or developed parts of the world (Masquelier, 2006). Some researchers have indicated that the reason for the comparison as well as the usage of the term refugee is because of the racial composition of New Orleans. Due to the large amount of black population, many journalists had speculated on racial stereotypes. It was the reason they used parallels while describing the natural disaster to the tragic events that were taking place in Africa, and that was also the reason for favoring the word refugee over the evacuee.

It is important to strengthen the fact that using the word evacuee would be more appropriate for this situation. It is because it refers to people who have lost their homes as a result of the natural disaster and have been evacuated by the state’s forces. The word refugee, on the other hand, is more appropriate for the people suffering from the political regime or military conflicts. These ones have to flee their homes consciously.

Thus, even with the term, one can see the issue of racial misperception with the media spreading a particular message to the audience. It is strengthening some racial stereotypes and prejudices. The media coverage has a significant impact on the public opinion. It has strengthened unconscious beliefs of various people about blacks being disadvantaged, poor or violent. As a result, the media message has been used as a tool for the further racial miscommunication.

Positive Transformation

The positive aspect of this media coverage is the fact that the particular part of society did react to it. It spoke about racism in the articles and photos. Due to it, one can see some progress that has been made while discussing racism. It shows that people begin to react to racial issues and try to decrease such racial misperception and crooking media messages. It is a positive outreach brought out by Katrina coverage. It has helped American society to integrate over racial issues and strengthen the necessity to treat races equally. After all, the photo controversy has been clear showing the prejudices that have to be eliminated from the community in the United States. Henceforth, by strengthening and speculating on stereotypes, the media have pointed out these things to the larger audience. Therefore, the latter was forced to recognize the problem and solve it in a particular way. The crooked media perception on race is a signal to society to change the existing attitudes and social beliefs. It is also a wake-up call for various people who have used to ignore the racial problems. They have existed in the United States as well as other countries responding to the photo controversy.

Thus, it can be sad that the controversy did bring a social change in an unexpected way. It served as a trigger for various transformations and improvements regarding racial perception and communication. With criticism that followed the controversy, it showed the readiness of the community to respond to social injustices. It was also a good example of civil society reacting to misperceptions and factual manipulations.

Potter Box Analysis

The photo controversy can be analyzed using the Potter Box. It enables to see the reasoning behind the AP’s publications as well as the point of the following criticism. The AP had operated with facts. It had pictures of the couple and the man. It possessed some particular information regarding the actions of people on the photos. The AP’s main value should be centered on the honest information like providing people with timely and needed news. Thus, the AP had operated using professional values like novelty, human interest, impact, and the public’s right to know. It is difficult to suggest the principle behind the AP’s decision to run the photos without the needed explanation (like the fact that a journalist has seen the robbery, etc.). The loyalty of the AP is its audience. The problem that the AP had to deal appeared because the news agency had been unable to operate by the principles while running the information. Also, the journalists did not think about population’s sensitivity regarding racial issues.

The Potter Box was applied while analyzing public reaction as well. It explained the criticism that appeared in society. People received some factual information like the photos without the background evidence and with a clear message of racial prejudices. While responding to the pictures, they had operated the moral values (justice and humanness). Professional values were also involved in this situation (like an analysis of professionalism of the news agency). People approached the issue using the value of justice. They have found out it to be unfair to treat the particular race in the more favorable light than another. Thus, the description contradicted the people’s perception on just coverage and treatment. It was also inhuman for them because it constructed an unfair image of the entire black population.

In this situation, Kant’s Categorical Imperative is the most appropriate principle. It shows the necessity for various races and members of society to treat one another equally. When the country formally defends and follows the principles of democracy, freedom, and equality, citizens expect these ideas to be applied to everyone without any selection and segregation. Henceforth, individuals also believe that races have to be treated equally. It is an only way for any society to function the way it should. In this situation, an equal treatment of races intersects with the chosen principles and explains the reason for criticism.

As for the loyalties, the controversy affected the black population the most. Thus, the ethical decision was influenced by an appeal to a large amount of people. After all, white persons could express as much criticism towards photos as blacks. It is because the issue of racism affects everyone. The misperception of the particular color of skin leads to further complications in the communication among people with various backgrounds. Therefore, the criticism was a result of the mixed population being affected.

Media Influencing Society

The controversy above with both photos and term usage has showed the influence media had over the population and depicts the reaction that has been received. The media have a very big role in the modern world because they serve as the main information tool. The media can often be used for manipulating the larger audience. The example with hurricane Katrina has showed that media messages were important for the audience. The acceptance or criticism that the photos received has presented the people’s ability to comprehend and evaluate the information from the media. Although now, there are many different sources of information, and the media world has to deal with such rivals as live streams and subjective bloggers. Nevertheless, it still tries to keep its control over consumers by feeding them the information and enjoying the public reaction.


Henceforth, the major ethical issue in the analysis has been the racial (mis)perception and the audience’s reaction. The paper has aimed to show the importance of civil society when responding to media messages. They present and strengthen certain prejudices as an example of a social change and positive transformation in mass mentality. With the analysis, one has shown the importance of public monitoring of various media outlets as a technique to improve the quality of different sources and the media performance, in general. The research has approached the issue using the tools from the Potter Box. It has showed the reasoning behind the two sides of this controversy. It has depicted that media needed to be analyzed and watched constantly by the audience. People could never take the media information as an axiom, but approach it critically. It is especially true to the one’s career because the analysis has showed the following thing. There is a necessity to reflect and critically evaluate every published piece as such that may consist of double standards, reality replacement, or unprofessionalism.

Writing this paper has been a challenge. I have never paid attention to the issues of racism, prejudices, and media influence before. I have not even realized the impact the media had on people or the ability to convey and present particular images. These ones would be spread out across the large population and strengthen or build brand new social perceptions. The paper has helped me to understand the many concepts of factual contortion as well as the ideas behind the Potter Box. Due to writing the research, I now have a better understanding of media ethics, potential bias, and the role of media monitoring.