Saturday, September 03, 2005

The problem with the press

As I sit watching DHS Secretary Chertoff hold a press conference, something has clarified itself that has been teasing the back of my mind for days now:

The problem with the press corps, national and international, cub reporter to senior editor, is that the vast majority of them have never been responsible for something truly worthwhile in their lives. As a result, damn few of them can fathom the least complexity involved in the least element of this massive disaster relief effort that is going on, let alone fathom the vast complexity of the combined elements themselves. This is classic "man in the arena" syndrome.
All they've ever done in their lives is watched other people do stuff, and critique the doers as they tell their stories.

As one example of what I'm talking about, I saw an NBC reporter yesterday compare the ability of the vast resources of NBC to be able to sustain one small reporting/production crew with dedicated satellite communications on a high-and-dry patch of ground in New Orleans to the massively complex task of caring for and evacuating hundreds of thousands of souls from a flooded, polluted city whose infrastructure has collapsed and whose first responders have lost all communications. The message was, essentially, "If NBC can take care of ten of us, how come the government can't take care of these people?"

This is just one relatively minor example of the moronic analysis I've seen over the past couple of days. In all fairness, it's not all coming from the press themselves, but the press is generally too ignorant to be able to ask questions when others present the same inane analysis themselves. The 'civil rights' folks blaming the problems of this response on racism and bigotry ought to have a special place in hell set aside for them today, for example. They just have no idea what's involved.

In any case, as I started out saying, most of the press have no personal experience doing the detailed work of anything important or complex to have the context in which to analyze what is REALLY going on. They say "where are the busses?" while having no idea what it takes to get busses there.

First, the busses IN New Orleans are under water (topic for another post, perhaps). To get busses there from elsewhere requires finding busses that aren't being used to help in other areas of the state and region that were ALSO hit (something most of the reporters in NO seem to have dismissed).

Once you find a bus that's probably hundreds of miles from where it's needed, you need to get it ready and find a driver for it. Ideally, before you send the bus in, you're also loading it with supplies that are needed in the area (backhaul is another topic for another post).

Even as the bus is being readied, you need to find a route it can take to safely get there in the first place. Initially, clearing the few major routes that weren't damaged was a major effort in and of itself.

Once you've got a bus, you need a place where it can safely get to once in NO to safely pick up and evacuate folks. Lets assume away the problems of health, security, baggage, age (both extremes), orderly passengers, etc, and assume the pick-up will be a military-style one of healthy, disciplined, organized passengers who know and understand the process and their role in it. Once those theoretically ideal passengers are on the bus, you've got to have a place to take them (again, cleared routes, place to receive them, etc)

But WAIT, we've left out a step. The bus is now nearly out of gas because there's not a working gas station for hundreds of miles. Back up to the beginning. After we've cleared the route, but before we begin moving the bus in, we've got to get a reliable source of fuel to the outskirts of the effected area in order to be able to fuel busses (and first responders, and helicopters, and lots of other things, too, which requires Diesel, gas, and AVGAS as well as other fuel-type supplies).

OK, that's what it means to get a bus in, and we assumed away problems of health, sustenance, law & order, organization, and so many more. We haven't even touched on the complexities of sustaining the operation itself. The people and equipment required to get the bus there in the first place need to be taken care of unless you want them to become part of the problem instead of part of the solution (as has happened with some of the N.O. first responders when their facilities were flooded).

Then there's the further complexities of what you do with the passengers once you've got them out of the effected zone. The problems that have occurred with getting people set up in the Astrodome are an example. THIS IS NOT meant as criticism to the great people of Houston (or other parts of Texas, Arkansas, Alabama, and lots of other places that are getting spun up to help). Those folks have been incredible and God has blessed us with having them as friends, neighbors, and Americans. Nevertheless, there have been glitches there, with the number of people they can sustain, which evacuees they would take, etc. While their problems have been minor, those problems and worse are happening at every other center we're taking evacuees to (and we've assumed away health, age, work, law & order, and other issues at those shelters for this discussion, mind you).

At the same time we're trying to move a bus, we've got to save the people who we can't even get busses to. To this day and hour the USCG and other uniformed services (civil and military) are plucking hundreds of survivors from flooded areas every day and identifying more still that they can't handle yet.

And this is just a tiny slice of what's going on in New Orleans alone. At the same time this is going on, we're dealing with what would be one of the biggest disaster recovery efforts on its own in other parts of LA, most of MS, and parts of AL. That's something the press are all seeming to sweep under the rug. This hurricane did more damage OUTSIDE of New Orleans than just about any hurricane since Andrew, and the same people trying to move that one bus are dealing with that other stuff, too.

What reporter has grasped all of this? Even the least element of it? None I've seen. They all seem to think that if you need a bus at the Superdome, you just call Greyhound and it'll be there in an hour.

To be fair, I'll mention that there have been a few folks working for the networks who get at least parts of this, but it's usually their specialists. Guys like the doctor that consults with FNC that's working as a doctor at the NO convention center, for example. There are maybe two other reporters that kind of get it. I'm not a Geraldo fan, but he seems to understand the complexity - or at least that there IS complexity - probably because of his extensive experience working in and traveling about war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan. Unfortunately, he didn't seem to come up on the net until Friday.

Anyway, that's what I think.



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