September 11, 2005  ·  Lessig

O’Reilly’s “moral to the story” of the Katrina disaster is a perfect plan for the opposition. His basic message: see, this shows government doesn’t work, so don’t rely on it. The response it invites: see, this shows how we need to make government work. Government has failed. Must government fail?

(Meanwhile, Fox had some fantastic reporting on all this. Gone were the sycophants in the field. Here are two great examples, snipped from a fantastic article at Salon. (Thanks, Lauren.))

  • http://sethf.com/infothought/blog/ Seth Finkelstein

    What happened here is a very old story – appoint an incompetent crony to an important government agency (FEMA), don’t do the necessary projects, disaster strikes, proclaim “government doesn’t work”.

    Bonus: Use the “fog of war”, where those on the ground will make mistakes, to shift blame to the low-level people.

    Phrasing it as “this shows how we need to make government work” makes it sound hypothetical though – a not-working reality vs a working utopia.

    I think a better phrasing is “this shows how the current adminstration has looted the government”. But, in the greater scheme of things, who listens to me? :-(

  • Terrance Andrews

    Larry, seriously, who cares about Murdoch-owned Fox TV dumb ass entertainers such as O’Reilly? (Could O’Reilly even have an intelligent discussion about copyright)?

    One of the bigger stories that you missed was the Wall St. Journal getting the story wrong on September 1st 2005 about the U.S. State of Massachusetts proposing the adoption in the state government system of Open Document The WSJ’s Bill Bulkeley tried to turn the story into a software war “Microsoft Office v.s. Open Office” but shame on him — Open Document is independent of Open Office and the WSJ did their readers a great disservice by misinforming. Larry, how did you miss this one? Our time could be better spent properly check mating the traditional mass media (WSJ) about truly important stuff like Open Document than worrying about what one entertainer named O’Reilly thinks about this or that. If its true that there is a high probability of the Public Domain vanishing, then federations such as OASIS need all the help they can get from people who have influence such as yourself.

    We have to save the world together for the future of our children and O’Reilly is not the guy to focus time and attention on.

  • http://www.civildisorder.org/blog Dan Morgan

    The video clips from Fox are powerful.

    Since I have a hard time sitting through even five minutes of that network, I had no idea that any reporter working there had a spine.

    Will the independence, integrity and backbone last?

    My money is on “no”.

  • http://www.civildisorder.org/blog Dan Morgan

    Sorry to post again, but these links are very relevant. NPR had a couple of great segments on Friday during ATC.

    Katrina Timeline: Unexecuted Plans
    Katrina Timeline: Misdirected Aid

    Give these two segments a listen. Congress does not need a hearing; NPR has laid it out pretty well.

  • Ross Bates

    I’m blown away that you refer to Geraldo’s grandstanding as “fantastic.” Zooming in on a poor infant’s face while crying is simply Geraldo style pandering. Integrity and backbone? Give me a break.

  • http://commonsrights.blogspot.com/ poptones

    Install mplayer and the codec pack and have at it.

    If this gives you ethical pains, then write the networks who published the content. Responding to every post here with “how can I get this content using free software” is pointlessly preaching to the choir.

  • http://gnuosphere.blogspot.com Peter Rock

    Poptones:

    Install mplayer and the codec pack and have at it. If this gives you ethical pains…

    Installing software does not clash with my ethics. I simply cannot agree to a license that makes me 1) promise not to share the software with others and 2) forfeit my right to a copy of the source code. Unfortunately, the makers of such software then say I am not allowed to install it.

    then write the networks who published the content

    I already wrote to – I believe it was “Elizabeth” – at This American Life. I haven’t yet received a response but that was only a few hours ago. If anything significant is sent back to me, I’ll let you know. As for “preaching to the choir”, sometimes (but not often) when I post such messages someone knows of a different place to get the information in a different format. Usually this doesn’t happen, but it’s always worth a shot.

  • http://billpg.me.uk/ Bill Godfrey

    Ah, I thought you meant the book publisher for a moment.

  • Violet Stater

    Around and around we go. I’m just guessing here, but I’ll bet that you’re not going to convert anyone with the argument “…no matter how much we’ve spent, the reason it still failed is because we didn’t spend enough”. Especially since that argument seems to totally ignore any possible economic reasoning.

    Bonus: Extra points awarded for getting to ignore the realities on the ground (I’m paitently wait for the moment in human evolution where we’ll no longer elect [er, sorry, select] miscreants to political office).

    Sigh. I guess it gives pundits something to chatter about.

  • Barney Fife

    “Must government fail?”
    We’d like to hope not. The world was certainly surprised by our incompetence in this situation, and I am still shocked by it.

    “Government doesn’t work, so don’t rely on it.”
    The idea of not relying on others is often called self-reliance. It’s not always a bad thing.

    Natural disasters happen everywhere.

    In my home, each family member has an emergency kit with 72 hours of water, food, medicine, and clothing. I would recommend that everybody put a little effort into emergency preparedness.

  • NathanB

    Blowhard conservatives are hilarious: “Government never works, except when we use it to transform the Middle East or stop kids from smoking weed.”

  • http://www.plantimals.org Rob Long

    “Must Government Fail?”

    Fail for who? Those who run it? Probably not.

    Must the mafia fail? Fail for who? Those who run it? Nope.

    I don’t think we would put the mafia in charge of our security and well-being, why would anyone trust a larger monopolistic mafia called the US Federal Government, to provide security?

    Anyhow, this does echo the fact that top-down organizations, such as fedgov, are not flexible enough to handle rapidly changing situations.

    The politics of failure have failed! We must make them work again!

  • Jardinero1

    Might I suggest that the government response was not a disaster? They got everyone out. They established law and order. They are beginning to clean up. What else could they do?

    Perhaps it was not the timeline that the talking heads and congressional democrats would have preferred. It wasn’t perfect, but what is? Something is only better or worse if it is compared to something else. What is this being compared to?

  • http://gnuosphere.blogspot.com Peter Rock

    Jardinero1:

    Something is only better or worse if it is compared to something else. What is this being compared to?

    I don’t think this rests on “comparison”. The question is, why did one of the richest nations in the world supposedly founded on “we the people” philosophy, bungle hurricane Katrina? If any nation has the resources to deal with this type of catastrophe in an expeditious manner, it’s the United States. Forget comparison. Why was this such a mess? Why?

  • Jardinero1

    Peter,

    I merely ask the question “Was the federal response a disaster?” I don’t think it was.

    What would you have done better? Please start at the local level and work your way up to what types of federal aid you would request and when. Explain how you would have implemented said aid. Be specific, don’t shy away from detail and use more than one sheet of paper if necessary.

    I will give you a start. Explain how the New Orleans Fire Department should have aided in search, rescue and evacuation. Isn’t it curious how you didn’t see any fire trucks in any video footage? A first reponder told me why when he returned from N.O. this weekend.

  • http://gnuosphere.blogspot.com Peter Rock

    Jardinero1:

    I merely ask the question “Was the federal response a disaster?”

    Please start at the local level…

    Explain how the New Orleans Fire Department…

    ?

    Jardinero, you may be right in patting the federal organizations on the back. After all, I don’t currently live in the New Orleans area and often, reporting is biased.

    But, I’m hearing reports that it took multiple days for federal aid to reach those in need of food and evacuation. Are you saying that what I’m hearing is false?

    Or are you saying that there are valid reasons why the response was so sluggish and we should expect the exact same response in any similar future event?

  • Jardinero1

    This is anecdotal but accurate: My aunt is a Pediatric ER physician who was part of a FEMA team flown to a staging area in Houston the Saturday before the Hurricane hit. On Monday morning, after the storm passed, her team and many, many others were en route to New Orleans. She started work in the Superdome as soon as she arrived on Monday. How much sooner could they have arrived? Her team closed up shop on Thursday and transferred to Baton Rouge where they ran a clinic. They transferred because their work was done in the Superdome. This while Geraldo was crying out front. The last evacuees left on Saturday.

    The feds serve at the pleasure and request of the local authorities. They facilitate and enhance the local plan for the disaster. In this case, the local authorities were so corrupt and inept that the Feds had to make it up for them. I live in Houston and there are numerous transplants here from Louisiana. Nobody I know from New Orleans is the least bit surprised at how the community disintegrated during this crisis.

  • http://http:/www.jzip.org/ jadams01@sprynet.com

    Jardinero1,

    I’m willing (actually, I’m wanting very badly) to believe your story, and even to accept that it may have more than anecdotal value, but it does not jibe with what we heard from the guys at the top of FEMA, namely Brown and Chertoff.

    I don’t doubt that there were elements in FEMA which responded beautifully, as well as could be expected, but given the confusion which we saw reigning at the top of FEMA, I believe the overall effort was sadly lacking.

    This is consistent with the story you tell–and good for your aunt and her team! On the evidence available to us so far, she and her team outperformed her organization, or at the very least, outperformed her organization’s management.

  • Jardinero1

    What I am asking the readers is: What would have been adequate?

    Evacuate the Superdome by Friday instead of Saturday. Start the evacuation on Tuesday instead of Wednesday? (No evacuation was requested by Nagin until Tuesday.) There is a lot of complaining, generally, about what a “disaster” the federal response to the disaster was. But, there are very few specific instances that anyone can name, with any veracity, where the feds could have been bettered.

  • http://commonsrights.blogspot.com/ poptones

    I do know this – from many friends on the gulf coast in Mississippi AND from the local news coverage here in MS: there is STILL very little federal assistance showing up in the hardest hit areas in MS. You can blame corrupt Louisiana politicians on the NO situation if you like; I’ve only been there a couple of times and even then we almost became statistics of the local (corrupt) police department that is now infamous for impounding vehicles and pocketing the auction fees – but here in MS we have a governor who is a FOB, a political lobbyist whose entire career in this state came from the deep pockets in Shrub’s pary backing him in the last race.

    Yet you don’t even see the governor complaining about it. All he does is parrot whatever shrub’s saying and praise the Federal agencies that are “here to help.” But I can put you in touch with many people who’s homes were damaged or destroyed by the hurricane and some of them will tell you they’ve not seen the first federal aid worker.

  • some guy

    Jardinero1, one thing that was lacking was imagination.

    They said it was too dangerous for individuals to go in with there boats and help.

    So, they should have organised an armadda of boats. Every boat owner in the area should have been mobilized, equiped with food and medical suplies, and sent in.

    This would not be that hard to organize. i am sure that everyone who can afford a boat, can alos afford an internet connection and a cell phone.

    What this gov’t consistently fails to do, is utilize its most precious and abundant resource: the american people.

  • some guy

    one more comment:
    if you were the president of the united states that fatefull tuesday, what would you have done? Would you continue with your vaction for three more days?
    nuff said

  • Anonymous

    What I am asking the readers is: What would have been adequate?

    How about we use the tsunami in a 3rd world country like Indonesia as a benchmark for comparing effectiveness of rescue/recovery?

  • http://www.sbs-world.com Zennie

    Hi,
    I watched CNN. I decided when Katrina struck to keep my eyes turned toward CNN, and not Fox. I don’t take Fox seriously at all, except for the danger it poses to the maintenance of good journalism on television.

    By contrast, CNN has detailed coverage and a racially and ethnically diverse field of reporters. I think the coverage of Katrina was their finest moment, and also proves the logic of The Situation Room format.

  • http://www.sbs-world.com Zennie

    Oh…On the matter of Government and conservatives like those at Fox, John Kenneth Galbraith wrote it best:

    “Republicans have the singular distinction of accusing government of being incompetent, and when they take office, doing everything they can to make it so.”

  • http://decnavda.blogspot.com Decnavda

    I love the arguments this sets up when Republicans run the government. If George Bush does something well, this proves that Republicans are effective, and therefor we should vote for Republicans. If George Bush screws up, this proves that government is ineffective, and therefor we should vote for Republicans. It’s like the argument for tax cuts. If the ecconomy is doing well, we should give people their money back by cutting taxes. If the ecconomy tanks, we should stimulate it by cutting taxes. What we believe is proven correct no matter what happens!