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Monday, September 05, 2005

KATRINA: An Open Letter to The New Orleans Times-Picayune

Just read your editorial blasting Bush and the feds for failing to respond with sufficient haste to the plight of your city. I understand the emotion and I agree that the response was too slow, though I'm not convinced any bureaucracy as sprawling, complex and distant as that of the federal government could ever respond as quickly as was needed.

What I do know is your city's mayor had an emergency vacuation plan on its web site many months before Katrina struck. That plan included the use of the New Orleans public schools and bus systems' 500+ buses to evacuate those who couldn't remove themselves. But your mayor ignored his own plan.

When are you going to ask the Mayor why? Why was it left to bloggers who were nowhere near your city to find that emergency plan and start asking the Mayor why? Your staff has faced monumental challenges to be sure and your reporters and editors performed heroically during the storm itself and in many respects in the immediate aftermath.

But casting stones at others while ignoring the evidence of your Mayor's incompetence is not distinguished journalism. Maybe a combination of emotional and physical exhaustion is clouding editorial judgement, I don't know. Journalists are no more exempt from human emotion than anybody else, whether we like to admit it or not.

Whatever the explanation, however, it is depressing today to see a daily newspaper that has distinguished itself in the past with its reporting on the city's lack of preparation for a disaster like Katrina now apparently buying into the obvious evasions, grand-standing and obfuscation of the Mayor and others in the local political establishment.

But I do know there are great reporters and editors on the staff of The New Orleans Times-Picayune and I can only wonder how long it will be before they start asking the Mayor the tough questions. And going beyond the self-serving spin to get the truth about why the Mayor ignored his own plan.

Whatever else occupies the staff in the weeks and months ahead, you owe it to the people of New Orleans to find that truth and to report it as fearlessly and completely as possible, and then let the chips fall as they may.