Thursday, September 15, 2005

A Friend from Knoxville Writes

"There's an overwhelming effort on the part of newspapers to blame the President for all failures concerning the devastation in New Orleans from Katrina. Thye Bias seems to be so overwhelmingly obsessive that objective reporting, and editorials meant to be influential, are no longer expected from the print media. Failures of Nagin and Blanco were not mentioned, and both appear to be bullet-proof, at least so far as being accountable for anything. Fortunately, Americans are not oblivious to the facts of accountability, particularly having been exposed to strong, decisive action by other local and state elected officials during previous times of great tragedies. Your reporting and editorializing simply undermines the credibility of your own paper. No visitor to New Orleans will miss the city more than me. Since I spent my honeymoon at the Royal Orleans in 1966, I have visited the city as many as 15 weeks a year. I have been to every major event in the city over this period, perhaps 15 Mardi Gras celebrations and not just the French Quarter, but including numerous Balls and parades. I became acquainted with hosts of more than a hundred restaurants, and have stayed at virtually every major hotel in the city. I have hosted receptions, banquets, and hospitality functions all over the city; but also, sadly, am very much aware of the welfare mentality among so many of the citizens. [...] I will implore our elected officials to investigate the disaster completely so that accountability can be assigned to those whom your newspaper refuses to name. Cordially," etc...

Dear Mr. Knox,

Since you have the distinction of being an eclectic patron of both such a place as Snack Jack's in Flagler Beach and Florida Southern College in Lakeland (I had many a leisurely walk in Wright's shadows at the latter, but have yet to have a bite at the former), you seem to me a more interesting gentleman than I was first led to believe by your September 9 letter to me. I should not let your letter go unanswered, nor your misconceptions.

There's a tendency among conservatives to band together no matter what. They call it loyalty. It's more akin to something faintly totalitarian: You're either with us or you're with the (fill in the blanks). When the president screws up, conservative editorialists, columnists and talking heads on television and the radio (those twin towers of moronic thought, where so much is decided) all circle the wagons in a reaction so Pavlovian, it's sometimes a bit disturbing to see. But it has served the conservative movement excellently. Look around. We're now a conservative nation, at least in institutions and appearances, if not quite in popular will. The herd mentality has its political benefits. I'm not so sure about the social and economic benefits, if one cares about more than bootstraps and bottom lines.

For good or bad, the less conservative sorts, to say nothing of the liberal sorts, have never managed to take advantage of the herd mentality. Even before Clinton screwed up as frequently as lavishly as he did, the New York Times was all over him for the slightest misstep, real or perceived, and most liberal writers (the two or three of them who are still around) didn't hesitate to call him out. Clinton was such a disappointment because he had such talent, yet squandered it so badly. But enough of the past. All this to say that when you suggest that we as a newspaper are pointing the finger exclusively at President Bush, or that I am doing so as a columnist, you're simply wrong. We are pointing the finger at Bush, to be sure, because (as Truman used to say, and Bush alas has never said) the buck stops with the president. We have and continue to also point the finger at the governor of Louisiana and the mayor of New Orleans, who are state and local disgraces of leadership. But they're small fry: They did what you expect local incompetents to do. FEMA and the president did what you did not expect them to do-not after four years of hearing the president stuff our ears with his claims to being an infallible commander-in-chief and all that claptrap about being our "war president." The man failed, Mr. Knox, simply and tragically. People have died unnecessarily in Louisiana, and here you are complaining not about the failure, being outraged not about the unnecessary deaths, but about what editorialist and what newspaper is singling out your beloved president for blame. You seem to me too intelligent and too cosmopolitan (if somewhat conventionally bigoted about "the welfare mentality among so many of the citizens" of New Orleans, those same citizens who enabled so much of your receptions, banquets and hospitality you enjoyed) to be falling prey to the herd mentality. You say that accountability should be "assigned to those whom your newspaper refuses to name." But we name them, Mr. Knox. You refuse to accept the names the moment they include those to whose campaign coffers you've contributed. It seems to me the dishonesty and lack of credibility isn't ours.

At any rate I appreciate the letter, and suspect there's more both of us could say to each other, more honestly and interestingly, than any single letter would allow. I take it you're still an occasional visitor to our areas (last November you were at the Shack right around my last birthday). Next time you're in town, be sure to let me know ahead of time. Maybe we can meet for a beer. Don't you have particular fondness for the National Beer Wholesalers Association's PAC coffers at election time? I'm a Carlsberg man myself, however.

Sincerely, ...