The Washington Post conducted a study to determine how racial cues presented in Katrina news coverage influenced citizens' response to the hurricane's aftermath. These racial cues were found in both thematic stories that covered the hurricane in general, and in episodic stories that focused on particular individuals.
Participants in the study were given a thematic story that covered the extent of the flooding and the destruction of parts of New Orleans, and one that focused on lawlessness and looting. Participants were also given episodic stories about victims of various races. About 2,300 people completed the study. Of this group, "the sample was skewed heavily" in the direction of Democrats and liberals: Only 12% identified as Republicans. 86% were critical of Bush's handling of Katrina, and 84% had earned at least a bachelor's degree.
The details of the study may be viewed here. Here are the major findings:
People were willing to give assistance to a white victim, on average, for about 12 months, and they were willing to give the same amount of aid to an African American person for about 11 months. A darker-skinned black victim was selected to receive $100 a month less, over a shorter period of time, than a light-skinned white person. Participants who read an article on looting were the least generous toward African Americans.
"We suspect that this group would score at or very near the top of most measures of support for civil rights and racial equality," Post authors said of the study's participants. "The fact that this group awarded lower levels of hurricane assistance after reading about looting or after encountering an African-American family displaced by the hurricane is testimony to the persistent and primordial power of racial imagery in American life."