Not a Journalist
I am not a journalist. I don't like exhaustive research, though I do respect such research. I have been skimming politics like a water bug my whole life: though I spent three years on the high school newspaper, I don't think I wrote a single straight news story. My whole itty bitty life has been about impressions and tones and intuition and snark and flights-of-fancy and bald-faced fantasy: don't get me wrong, I listen and read others and weigh the evidence that is laid out and then go on my way, writing lyrics or snark or nothing about these same topics. Hurricane Katrina has threatened my relationship with the written word, has clawed at it and mugged it and pulled me to the harder work of writing and making some kind of sense out of large disasters, but now I am slipping backwards inside myself, for I know there isn't anything more I can add in terms of "the facts of the case." What's weird is that I am a sort of mirror of the administration, fashioning reality as I go, adding textures and colors as I feel like, moving pieces around in often arbitrary patterns. The difference is I do it for fun while the Bush administration does it for profit.
We hear how government is inept, so Rove and Norquist and Andy et al make government as inept as possible and use that as evidence as to why it must be weakened further. Even though the MSM has been a profound disappointment for over two decades, it seems to be taking its role seriously in the aftermath of Katrina: it showed up for a tragedy and found itself the only one, besides the victims, who could locate the address. The L.A. Times, in an article about the "Response" to Katrina's effects had a sidebar titled "Anatomy of a disaster" in which they had one column for Agency one for Responsibilities and one titled Responses.
Under "responsibilities" for the White House they wrote: "Delegates responsibility for disaster response to government agencies." and "Declares federal emergency to allow for federal aid in hurricane relief efforts." Under responses the Times writes:
President and many top White House staff remain on vacation during initial stages of crisis.
White House blames state and local officials for inadequate response.
President relies heavily on FEMA's optimistic and can-do assessments.
White House considers and rejects federal takeover of National Guard after Louisians governor objects.
President doesn't expect the levee breaches, despite explicit warnings.
The list goes on to include Department of Homeland Security, FEMA, National Guard and the U.S. Military, and they don't fare any better. In a dispassionate voice, the Times lays out reality and it sits there quietly staring back at me, and I wonder why Bush still has his job, much less Brown or Chertoff or any of a thousand political appointees who smile for the camera and cannot wipe their own asses without blaming poor black people for their own shit. But at least the truth sits there.
There is this odd thing called hope: some real journalists are doing their jobs. On August 31st, I wrote the following to the L.A. Times:
DEAR EDITORIAL STAFF,
A war won and lost over two years ago yet it continues, a President playing guitar for a photo-op while The Big Easy drowns, National Guard on consecutive tours overseas when they are needed here...the sky isnâ€™t falling, weâ€™re pulling it down. Who will cry â€œEnoughâ€ if not our best and brightest in print media? Television stations cannot betray their ever-shrinking share of ad revenue, but print media cannot betray its readership, not now, not anymore.
Look out your windows in downtown! What do you see? Nothing? Why? Is it because your building is pointed away from America?
Much to be commended re the work of the Times, but so much more left unattended; the story of America as it skids into 2006, a story beyond â€œpositioningâ€ and â€œmarket researchâ€ and if left alone the country is going to have cultural/political levees break and social floods rise that will make New Orleans look like the babyâ€™s wash basin. What is the Times place in all of this going to be? Looking out of windows at nothing while a great and beautiful country is cut off at the knees?
I write this as a plea: go to the highest (metaphorical or not) mountain you can find and take a good, long look around. Then come back and tell your readers in Southern California and around the world just what it is you see. Please.
Who could presume to tell you what to write?--yet I ask that whatever you do write, do it as if it mattered. As John Wooden has been known to say â€œDare to be different, dare to be a Daniel!â€ Interested?
You could be the greatest journalist in the world, but if your paper holds back your reigns your talent and drive will be for naught. I will never be a journalist, but I will root for them to do their jobs, to be objective, and to champion for justice and truth as best they may.
Did your local newspaper write something that had a particular whiff of truth? Did the editorial board opine from their hearts and heads and make sense at the same time? Send them thank you's and congratulations: avoid damning them with faint praise. Tell them you hope to read more quality work, more professional journalism from them, and tell them we need more like them. I am writing the Times today, to thank them for doing their jobs. Do I have to do this? Should we thank people for merely doing their jobs? In my world, yes.
I am not a journalist, nor do I play one on television, but I need journalists, good ones, and I need editorial boards, good ones, who can do their jobs so my country doesn't go down the drain. Many bloggers have done terrific jobs during these events (though I have been on the road bringing goods to Louisiana and have not read much--I hope to read some tonight) and they are now a vital part of the dissemination of news, and the fact-checking of that news. Let's keep going, let's see if this awkward partnership between MSM journalists and bloggers makes for a better press, and a better country for all of us.
Image of H.L. Mencken from here.
This is crossposted at Mortaljive.