Monday, July 03, 2006

The Cowardly Watchdog

From: The History of the Watchdog Mission

The project for Excellence in Journalism
Journalism's watchdog role has long been seen as critical to its mission of informing the public....
It was the watchdog role that made journalism, in James Madison's phrase, "a bulwark of liberty."

Hate to act like a high school civics teacher, but sometimes I just feel this overwhelming compulsion.

Kudos to the Picayune for Sunday's story on the connections between Renee Gill-Pratt and William Jefferson's family. The reporter did a great of tracing the complex financial dealings between Gill-Pratt and the Jeffersons and shows just how closely connected they are. Definitely a must-read story. I almost feel petty pointing out that Gill-Pratt lost her bid for re-election and Jefferson's career is toast.

I'm not knocking the Jefferson story at all, just contrasting it with the same reporter's story on Billboard Ben Edwards. The Billboard Ben story mentions the connections between the Water Board member and the mayor, but doesn't really follow up on them. If there was any investigative reporting in there, I didn't see it. Seemed to me to just repeat information from old stories and tell us what's in some new federal subpoenas. There was nothing in there that wasn't a matter of public record. I guess a re-elected mayor and a Water Board member need less of a watchdog than an indicted congressman and a defeated council member.

If you disagree and think that the stories were equally thorough, you may be right--that's a subjective matter. However, only one story came with an accompanying editorial, and the editorial did say:
But New Orleanians shouldn't have to count on the feds and the state to make city government run cleanly and efficiently

Isn't it time that Billboard Ben get his own editorial? What's he have to do to get all the attention he so richly deserves?

It's the lack of attention on routing out corruption that makes me think Ray Ray only got rid of the Morial's cronies to replace them with his own. Edwards, obviously, served some purpose in Ray Ray's administration.
Four years ago, when there was so little follow through on his much-lauded cleanup of city government, it didn't occur to me that it was a smokescreen for his own shenanigans. I thought that the worst he might be was a showboater going after low-hanging fruit. But I entertained the hope that he be a pragmatist trying to deprive the corruption of oxygen rather than confronting it. Unfortunately, the facts seem to go with the fraud theory. It's not just Billboard Ben and MCCI, before that, his CAO's brother had part ownership in firms that received high-bid city contracts and I couldn't help but notice that though Morial's organization backed Landrieu--some of Morial's old financial backers (who did business with the city) are Nagin backers--who still do business with the city. AMID metro partnerships and AMID landfill are all that come to mind, but I saw others.

If I weren't such a cynic, I'd be really afraid that it would end up embarassing the city. Being such a cynic, I suspect that the reconstruction money started to flow again when local governments, the two states and the administration came to a tacit understanding on the division of spoils. Just a theory, mind you. But if the small (but not politically connected) local firms that could do the work most cheaply get left-out who cares? The entire country has no-bid contract fatigue.
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