The Caste System

Media biggies ignored Times-Picayune's warnings—at everyone's peril

"We're angry, Mr. President, and we'll be angry long after our beloved city and surrounding parishes have been pumped dry. Our people deserved rescuing. Many who could have been were not. That's to the government's shame . . . tens of thousands of people trapped inside [the Superdome] with no air-conditioning, overflowing toilets and dwindling amounts of food, water and other essentials. . . . Every official at the Federal Emergency Management Agency should be fired, Director Michael Brown especially.

"In a nationally televised interview Thursday night, he said his agency hadn't known until that day that thousands of storm victims were stranded at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. He gave another nationally televised interview the next morning and said, 'We've provided food to the people at the Convention Center so that they've gotten at least one, if not two meals, every single day.'

"Lies don't get more bald-faced than that, Mr. President. Yet, when you met with Mr. Brown Friday morning, you told him, 'You're doing a heck of a job.' That's unbelievable."

But what about the media caste system? Will it persist? I would think so, in some form or another. It's possible, though, that it could become less virulent. It's certainly about time for journalists who work for "prestigious" papers to acknowledge and honor the special contributions of papers like the Times-Picayune and others who do first-rate work.

Any journalism elder like myself comes to know that solid reporting is being done all over this country. And as an elder, I have heard people at other New York City papers sneer at the work of now deceased New York Newsday, when it had put their metro coverage to shame. I have also heard sneers about the Voice's coverage of politics and government, which on a regular basis smokes out more government corruption than any of the sneerers do.

I would argue that if the mainstream papers in New York had followed up on the Voice's coverage of George Pataki's mottled history when he was running for governor for the first time in 1994, the state might have been spared 12 years of misguided, costly, crony governance.

The caste system carries a heavy cost. It weakens the news business.

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