Jeffrey has one of the qualities I most admire in a person and a conversationalist – an unwavering devotion to critical thought. This is often challenged on at least a weekly basis in his comment sections and sometimes he changes his original stance and sometimes he doesn’t. Whichever the case, I read his blog everyday because I know I am not reading something equivalent to a mob mentality.*
So with that said, I am sure he will appreciate it when I disagree with on a fundamental level his assessment that Nagin’s aids racking up more than $150,000 on city expense accounts paid for by the taxpayers is somehow less of an issue than the botched 311 story that ran on WWL last week. He called the former story “shrill sensationalism of explainable petty bullshit” and said it would make future criticism of valid issues less effective. How it would make them less effective is not addressed. Not even in the comments.
Even without the details (and yes the amount of money involved is disproportionate) of either story being taken in to consideration, what he’s doing is playing a zero-sum game. Just because focus is placed on one issue, it doesn’t mean it is immediately withdrawn from another. Rather, both the stories are the same, government waste of taxpayer money in the Mayor’s office. They both count to that point. One counts toward waste via incompetence and/or cronysm, the other toward waste via smoothies and Morton’s steaks.
As a voter who is growing increasingly wary of government waste on all levels, both stories were incendiary. Here’s why the local media did an excellent job communicating the same general issue via two stories. The 311 story connects with an analytical, connected readership, those (like the mob of bloggers) who examine and keep an eye on many of the office’s business deals. And with each of these people I imagine there are a few others who rely on them for local scuttlebutt, people with whom they get together with on a porch or at a coffee shop and carry on about what’s happening in the city. Then those people have a few others and the story gets spread around. The Fourth Estate has accomplished its task.
The Morton’s story connects with those same people but also a lesser informed (and by this I don’t mean stupid) readership who can quickly relate to government officials running up expense accounts on the taxpayer’s dime via meals at fancy restaurants. It has the ability to reach a lot of people who may not know the inner dealings of 311 but can easily imagine outrageous expenses on a credit card. It’s a quick, sexy story, yes. But it isn’t a straw man. It is the same story communicated in two ways to two different portions of citizenship.
Local media’s responsibility ends once the message is delivered. It is up to the citizenship to act upon it. How we proceed is entirely up to us. I am guilty of simply sitting here and lamenting how outrageous the whole thing is and then doing nothing but blogging and hoping 2010 gets here soon.
I am particularly pissed at myself for the whole Home Depot deal a few weeks back. Sure, the Mayor’s office would feed the same bullshit over and over again but what about The Home Depot? Couldn’t a publicly traded big box store have some sort of responsibility toward its shareholders for conducting questionable business deals with 18 year old kids? I should have wrote to the company and investigated a little more but then true life came in and it slipped away.
I suppose the larger point is that whether the Mayor is inept or corrupt, he seems to be wasting a ton of taxpayer money. So long as that message is communicated clearly to the citizenship by the local media, it shouldn’t matter how, or in what context, it is done.
That said, I will do my best to tell anyone who will listen about how tossed-up the 311 contract is.
*This cyber collective consciousness is actually the dirty little secret about ours and many other “blogospheres.” By nature, they are often comprised of like-minded people writing about like-minded subjects. So once a truth (by this I mean something accepted as truth, right or wrong) gets released into the program, it stays there until, like Newton’s law, something acts upon it to change it.