I wasn’t at the National Conference of Editorial Writers convention last week, so I can’t verify the accuracy of the account from Linda Seebach of Denver’s Rocky Mountain News in today’s Oregonian.
She writes that during a panel on challenges facing Portland, political pollster Tim Hibbits “observed dryly that politics in Portland covers the full range of opinion from left to far left to ultraleft.” If her representation is accurate — and if Hibbits was being serious — then there is a definite problem with his credibility from here on out, considering that more than a quarter of Multnomah County’s voters chose the Bush/Cheney box in the 2004 general election. They weren’t all in Gresham. I’m inclined to believe Seebach’s reporting here; aside from the fact that she comes from the conservative side of the fence herself, Hibbits has little good to say about liberals in general.
Seebach also trusts Hibbits for the story about Tom Potter meeting with the Critical Mass bike riders before business leaders. Never mind that Potter had been meeting with a wide variety of people in business and private forums during the two phases of his campaign for mayor, it’s a fun story for someone like Hibbits to tell as an example of how loony the city government is. And gullible people like Seebach — who admits to being surprised that “so much evidence of urban decay” was visible in Portland — like to hear those stories.
The fiction that conservatives have been driven out of the city of Portland is simply ludicrous. If it was true, the Oregonian wouldn’t have David Reinhard on its opinion pages. There wouldn’t have been any fight about the city takeover of PGE. The whining about whether Portland was business-friendly wouldn’t be taking place, because everyone would agree that everything was just hunky-dory.
People who feel a need to give a pass to George W. Bush on whether race played a factor in the federal response to Hurricane Katrina have made much of the fact that other sections of the Gulf Coast which were predominantly white were afflicted with the same lackadaisical response. Their line of defense is that even areas adjoining Orleans Parish in Louisiana were neglected, apparently proving that Bush’s administration is either incompetent at responding to threats that have been examined for years or willfully negligent, but not racist.
The problem with that defense is it assumes that Bush is better informed about the racial makeup of the poor in the South than he is about anything else. Throughout the 1980s, Ronald Reagan used the phrase “welfare queen” — sometimes in close conjunction with the word “Cadillac” — to paint a specific image of the types of people on public assistance. Never mind that most recipients of welfare were white, his supporters knew the type of people he was talking about.
The story of poverty in the South — when it’s been discussed at all in the past decades — has been portrayed as an African-American issue. George Bush is — to borrow Calvin Trillin’s assessment of Reagan — disengaged at best. Someone who expects him to know that the group “poor people in the South” wasn’t more or less congruent with the group “poor black people in the South” seem to me as if they themselves are suffering a serious disengagement.
Sometimes things just don’t come out right when you’re talking off-the-cuff with reporters.
In an article from the latest issue of Willamette Week on emergency preparedness (“Lessons from Katrina”), Dr. Bill Long, the chief trauma director at Legacy Emmanuel Hospital says:
As we learned in Louisiana, there has to be someone in charge who knows what to do.
Of course, this isn’t a lesson that we had to learn from Hurricane Katrina. Someone who knows what to do is essentially the definition for the type of person you want to have in charge and it has been for a long time. Which is why so many of us were opposed to the idea of having George W. Bush — not to mention the many, many Democratic and Republican politicians who have helped cover his ass for the past five years — as the “leaders” of this country.
What we’ve actually learned from Katrina (well, those who weren’t already aware of it) was that the people in charge don’t know what they’re doing.
Bob Somerby at The Daily Howler can’t stop himself from blaming the media for the Bush administration’s lack of knowledge about flooding and levee breaches in New Orleans. In today’s episode, he faults NBC’s Brian Williams, NPR’s John Burnett, MSNBC meteorologist Sean McLaughlin, and CNN’s Aaron Brown for advancing the bullet-dodging theme in their post-storm reports.
What Somerby doesn’t consider is that reporters rely to some extent on sources for information about situations beyond their immediate knowledge.
Brian Williams was reporting from the Superdome on the Today show just after the height of the storm. Had he gone out to look at the low-lying parts of the city to make his judgment that New Orleans had survived relatively unscathed? Or was his report based on what officials were telling him?
John Burnett filed a report for Morning Edition on the day following the storm that that French Quarter was relatively unscathed. Toward the end of the report, however, he mentioned police had told him that “perhaps hundreds” of homes were flooded. He used first-hand accounts of the French Quarter’s condition, but like Williams, he relied on officials for information about the rest of the city. I don’t believe he used “dodged the bullet” in that report.
As I’ve pointed out, some members of the press — specifically the Times Picayune — were getting accurate information from local and state officials. Mayor Nagin had reported severe flooding in a radio interview as the storm was still hitting the city. That news had reached Baton Rouge by an hour after the storm and was reported at a press conference.
If Williams, Burnett, McLaughlin, and Brown had been told there was extensive flooding in New Orleans on Monday the 29th, it seems unlikely that bullet-dodging would have been the metaphor that came to mind. If I were Somerby, I’d be asking from who were they were getting their information about the effects of the storm?
A brief history in headlines. As you read these, think about whether FEMA has a coherent plan to deal with evacuees from any American city, much less New Orleans. I mean, just in case anything should happen anywhere.
Oregon gears up to take in 1,000 Katrina evacuees (Sunday 9.04.2005)
As many as 1,000 victims left homeless by Hurricane Katrina could start arriving in Oregon as soon as today, but probably later in the week as the state answers a federal call to provide shelter for storm evacuees in need of food, water and shelter.
Oregon assistance not needed so quickly, federal officials say (Wednesday. 9/07/2005)
Federal officials notified Gov. Ted Kulongoski on Tuesday evening that Hurricane Katrina evacuees won’t be arriving in Oregon immediately “due to changing circumstances in the Gulf Coast region.” But state and local officials were advised to remain prepared to offer shelter as needed.
FEMA asks Oregon to be ready for up to 500 Katrina evacuees (Friday, 9/09/2005)
The federal government has asked Oregon to be prepared to receive as many as 500 Hurricane Katrina evacuees on Saturday. Word came Thursday morning, a day after the Federal Emergency Management Agency had asked Oregon and other states to put preparations to shelter storm survivors on hold.
Without evacuees, Oregon shifts gears (Sunday, 9/11/2005)
Beeeeeep! This was a test, and only a test, of the Oregon emergency response system. If this had been an actual emergency…. After twice being told in recent days that evacuees — as many as 1,000 — would arrive in Oregon from the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast, those scrambling to welcome them got a definite answer Saturday as to whether they would come: no.
Dean Nugent, of the Louisiana State Coroner’s Department, who accompanied the soldier, added that it wasn’t safe to be in Bywater. “They’ll kill you out here,” he said, referring to the few residents who have continued to defy mandatory evacuation orders and remain in their homes.”
“The cockroaches come out at night,” he said of the residents. “This is one of the worst places in the country. You should not be here. Especially you,” he told a female reporter.
Nugent, who is white, acknowledged he wasn’t personally familiar with the poor, black neighborhood, saying he only knew of it by reputation.
I don’t know where this joke originated — it was passed on by Barbara’s long-time friend Mary Rocco — but it marks one of the first jokes I’ve heard in a long time that wasn’t a simple repurposing of an old punchline and it manages to tweak Bush on a couple of fronts simultaneously.
Q: What is George W. Bush’s position on Roe vs. Wade?
A: He really doesn’t care how black people get out of New Orleans.
The WSJ quotes the Washington Post‘s Leonard Downie, Jr. as saying that “people on the ground didn’t know what happened,” blaming communications problems due to Katrina. That explanation doesn’t — as the links to the Times-Picayune stories above show — hold water. Serious flooding had been reported at a Baton Rouge press conference by 9am Monday, an hour after the storm had passed through New Orleans.
Administration officials have already claimed that they thought the damage to the city wasn’t as bad as it turned out to be because the media reports didn’t say it was bad. Well, who does the media get its information from? The media that listened to local and state officials, like the Times-Picayune, knew that flooding was taking place. They knew that levee breaches had occurred by Monday afternoon.
My money is on the likelihood that the bulk of the media was listening to FEMA or other federal officials, who appeared to be unaware that flooding had begun at the same time as the storm. They, in turn, were looking at the news media who came to them for their information, and the coverage looked good to them.