Saturday, July 15, 2006

They're Not Only Ignoring Bigger Problems

The editors at the Times Picayune aren't exactly being straight forward either:
With the criminal justice system in New Orleans operating at half-speed post-Katrina and 6,000 backlogged cases to wade through, it is worse than wasteful to have judges jetting off to Jamaica at the public's expense.

That certainly gives the impression that the judges' absence from the city is contributing to the backlog, but from an Picayune story, one could only wonder how much the junkets contributed to the problem. There are only six functioning courtrooms in the criminal court building,i.e. there seems to be more judges than workspace for those judges.

This isn't to defend the judges; I would have ignored the editorial if it hadn't begun with a deceptive premise. The Picayune's editors seem to have realized that the amount of money involved was small potatoes; the total cost of CLE (at least to the city) seems to be less than any one of the outside consulting fees that the city has contracted, consulting fees that seem to be contracted for an estimated amount that can later be increased. To my knowledge, the paper has yet to question that aspect of the consulting fees, or some other obvious questions. How many of the outside consultants are brought in to make political pay offs (kudos to Stephanie Grace for alluding to it)? Are they merely brought in to provide political cover for the decisions to make painful, but necessary, cuts? I suspect a combination of the two.

Since the costs of the CLE didn't justify that degree of attention--two editorials, two page one stories, etc.-- did the Picayune start looking for important stories? No, it merely switched the emphasis to inappropriateness of elected officials leaving town under the circumstances. Personally, it's hard for me to imagine the good writers the Picayune keeping a straight face as they type out they're newly-found outrage over New Orleans' officials going to Jamaica. At any rate, you certainly just have to wonder when anyone outside of the living section will wonder at the travels of local officials.

I understand that it's long, drawn-out series that win journalism awards, but I have to wonder if a reluctance to criticize the mayor plays a factor. Who could accuse the T/P of shying away from investigative reporting now, just look at the hard-hitting series on the judges. Of course, there was that reporting on a congressman (who's already in the Justice Department's crosshairs) and a city council member (who lost her bid for re-election). But I suspect that, like the mayor they so clearly identify with, the editors at T/P are just too stubborn and egotistical to give up on something that they've decided is important.

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