Race and Media Coverage of Hurricane Katrina: Analysis, Implications, and Future Research Questions


  • Note: Authors are listed alphabetically, with the exception of the first author.

*Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Samuel R. Sommers, Department of Psychology, Tufts University, 490 Boston Avenue, Medford, MA 02155 [e-mail: sam.sommers@tufts.edu].


We analyze three aspects of media depictions of Hurricane Katrina, focusing on the relationship between race and coverage of the crisis. Examination of media language use explores the debate surrounding the terms “refugees” and “evacuees”—as well as descriptions of “looting” versus “finding food”—in light of the predominantly Black demographic of the survivors in New Orleans. Assessment of the story angle indicates a disproportionate media tendency to associate Blacks with crime and violence, a propensity consistent with exaggerated and inaccurate reports regarding criminal activity in Katrina's aftermath. A review of new media sources such as mass e-mails identifies stereotypical depictions of storm survivors that both converge and diverge from coverage found in more traditional media outlets. Psychological explanations, implications for public attitudes and behavior, and future research questions are explored.