I’ve dwelled on this for a few days now, and I’m going to do it again, because I heard the testimony before Congress last week on this issue, and I’ve seen a number of newspaper stories on whether insurers in Mississippi bilked taxpayers by avoiding wind payments and then paying out federal flood insurance on destruction that included wind damage.
Here’s the latest from the Sun Herald in Biloxi, an interview with David Maurstad, head of the NFIP, in which he repeats his testimony from last week that he is unaware of the NFIP paying any amounts for wind that should have been paid by private insurers. Here’s another story, by Maria Recio of McClatchy Newspapers, that the Sun Herald ran last week about Maurstad’s testimony. As you can see, the tone of the story is that it was amazing that Maurstad denied this when so many people in southern Mississippi believe it, and emphasis was put on the fact that he had he had "no knowledge" of such payments and did not categorically state they had never occurred.
Now if I’m writing either one of these stories, I tell you where I’m going: to the offices of Rep. Gene Taylor and the spokesman for Attorney General Jim Hood, who have alleged these payments, and I’m asking the following questions:
1. Can you give me the name of five homeowners who received payouts on flood insurance and received no wind payments? If the value of their homes was above the amount payable under flood insurance ($250,000 for the structure, $100,000 for contents) they don’t count, because the unpaid wind payments are theoretically still owed and the homeowner was not made whole by flood insurance.
2. How many homes were completely destroyed by Katrina, had flood insurance that paid and received no amount of money for wind damage?
3. Show me how you calculate how much wind damage occurred on these homes.
4. Why am I not hearing these same claims from Louisiana and Alabama? Did they not also have homes that were destroyed by flood, with some of the homeowners receiving flood insurance payments and no wind payments?
Why are these stories repeating rumors without demanding that the people alleging this stuff put up their evidence? The writing of the Recio story is particularly hard to figure out: why is the fact that something is "widely alleged" relevant? What’s the proof of the allegations? Among whom are they widely alleged, the staffs of Gene Taylor and Jim Hood? The existence of Bigfoot is also widely alleged, but if I’m a journalist I’m not going to start writing stories that assume their existence and demand that people prove the contrary.