Friday, June 02, 2006

Brian William takes on the Corps

NBC News Anchor Brian Williams knows . Willliams, who reported from the Superdome in the ugly early days of the flood, has continued to focus his nightly newscast on New Orleans and the entire hurricane coast, even as people from other parts of his country flock to his MSNBC blog to tell them they're tired of hearing about it.

The June 1 broadcast opened with a story on the failure of the levees, focusing on the Corps of Engineers' role: " the work was bad, the work was humans and not an act of god that led to this failure here" Williams said as he stood on the Ninth Ward. "The Army Corps of Engineers has taken responsibility for the failure of the levee system." He also intervised Col. Lewis Setliff here.

Online commentator Harry Shearer took Williams to task for not focusing on the Corps at a preservation conference on Wednesday in New Orleans, the Times Picayune reports.

...Shearer, a part-time New Orleans resident who pens a blog highly critical of the media, rose from the crowd to accuse NBC, and Williams in particular, of downplaying the Army Corps of Engineers' role in constructing substandard levees and floodwalls. Federal culpability isn't widely recognized across the country, he argued.

"To me, the reason why the guy in North Dakota should care is that this isn't just a case of bad weather," Shearer said.
Williams challenged him to watch the Thursday night broadcast, which focus on the release of a Corps of Engineers report on the failure of the levees, covered here also by WWL-TV. Both the WWL and NBC reports fall short of discussing the engineering failures documented by the National Science Foundation report, but Williams and NBC continue to keep the aftermath of the failure of the CoE levees in the national eye.

The Corps' Performance Evaluation Task Force is not complete and could not be found online, but the T-P reports the PET "concluded that each of the many levee, floodwall and pumping failures that occurred during Katrina has its roots in the inadequate process that the United States uses to address flood control projects through the corps. "

Let me remind everyone in NOLA or who cares about the city to visit and get involved in keeping the issue alive before Congress and the nation.

What jumps out in the Picayune story is the Corps' claim that there was no "no evidence of government or contractor negligence or malfeasance.” Engineer Robert Bea, a part of the UC Berkely/NSF team that issued its own report, told the T-P "“that just jumps out of nowhere, and yet they don’t explain how they looked for that evidence. If you don’t consider ignoring changes in elevation datum and (storm) criteria as negligence, what do you consider negligence? And if the definition of malfeasance is a public official not doing what he is required to do by law, then certainly there are plenty of examples of that."

I would fault Williams for not taking that path in his stories yesterday. Everyone says the Corps has taken responsbility, but based on the Picayune's gloss of the report, they have fallen short. That sort of half-assed, I-didn't-really-do-it apology isn't acceptable from my children, and it doesn't cut it for the Corps.

The "negligence or malfeasance" line jumped out at me too, Markus, as just completely not making any sense and flying in the face of everything else the report said. Makes ya just wanna go, "HUH?"

Still, I think a victory for NOLA. It's pretty clearly unanimous within the scientific community that this was a man-made event, that the levees were poorly designed and constructed, that they didn't do even what they were there to do. If they were what they were advertised as being, they should have held.

In other words, it didn't have to happen.

The good news is the Williams and Cooper, et al are talking about it. I thought all in all last night was a good TV night for the city.
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"And when we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard nor welcome, but when we are silent we are still afraid. So it is better to speak remembering we were never meant to survive." -- Audie Lorde

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