For once, I don't think I can blame the media.
Journalists keep writing stories about how awful things are in New Orleans. Time did a cover story last week: "It's Worse Than You Think." And yet three months after Katrina struck, the administration hasn't done much, Congress seems distracted by other issues, and there seems to be no sense of national urgency about the slow destruction of a major American city.
Is this inevitable, given today's MTV attention spans? What about all the lofty rhetoric, the presidential visits, the media hand-wringing amid the devastation of the hurricane and flooding? People are no longer drowning, but what remains of the city is slowly being strangled. Isn't that as big a story as when the levees broke?
Here is some of what I've been reading: About 250,000 devastated businesses have applied to SBA loans, while only a couple hundred have been approved. Isn't that as lackadaisical a response as FEMA's? If these businesses can't get short-term loans, they're going to close up, and there go the jobs that might enable more folks to return.
Some 284,000 homes were destroyed by the hurricane. Some people got flood-insurance payments, while others in the same neighborhood were denied. Major portions of the area have no power, and the local electric utility is bankrupt. The health care system has been crippled, with only two hospitals partially reopened. The first regular public school reopened only yesterday. Some banks can't decide whether to rebuild. Companies like UPS and Burger King have jobs available, but few takers because there is no housing. Much of the $62 billion okayed by Congress remains unspent.
Meanwhile, FEMA's brilliant plan was to kick out most of the 150,000 evacuees still living in hotel rooms, as of this week. After a huge uproar in the affected states, the deadline was pushed back to Jan. 7. But what happens then? FEMA has even tried to block cities like Houston from signing apartment leases for the displaced.
Donna Brazile, a Nawlins native, says in Time she's worried about "Katrina Fatigue."
As I've said, many journalists have remained on the case. But the disaster's aftermath is hardly getting the kind of constant coverage that Tom DeLay's indictment or Harriet Miers' nomination or the Valerie Plame investigation commanded. The hurricane hit in late August, but hundreds of thousands are still suffering, and it's entirely possible that much of the city will never be rebuilt and many of its residents will never come home. Isn't that as important as anything else going on in this country right now?
Watching Duke Cunningham's teary news conference today about pleading guilty to bribery, it was hard not to be moved by his sadness and remorse. But after looking at reports about the plea, I'm thinking: How on earth did the California congressman think he was going to get away with it?
"Cunningham admitted to receiving at least $2.4 million in bribes -- checks for over $1 million, cash, rugs, antiques, furniture, yacht club fees and vacations, according to prosecutors," says the LAT | http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-112805cunningham_lat,0,1187819.story?coll=la-home-headlines. " . . . Cunningham sold his home to a defense contractor at an inflated price, sparking a wide-ranging federal corruption investigation."
George W. Bush is trying to turn the political debate to immigration:
"President Bush kicked off a new effort on Monday to unite Republicans behind an overhaul of immigration laws," says the NYT | http://nytimes.com/2005/11/29/politics/29bush.html?hp&ex=1133240400&en=2d7e080562b780af&ei=5094&partner=homepage. "He emphasized the need to choke off the flow of illegal immigrants while trying to address conservatives' concerns about his plan to grant temporary legal status to millions of illegal workers already in the United States.
"On the first of two days of appearances in two border states, Arizona and Texas, Mr. Bush tried to stake out a middle ground on an issue that has divided Republicans, saying the nation did not have to choose between upholding its immigration laws and being compassionate to the millions of workers who travel here desperate to make a living.
"His emphasis was unmistakably on the elements that most concern conservatives in his party. They are demanding more forceful steps to hold back the waves of people who flow across the Mexican border and are deeply opposed to anything that smacks of amnesty for people who have entered illegally."
What will Bush say about his Iraq strategy tomorrow? "The Bush administration is stepping up its efforts to persuade Americans that Iraq's nascent security forces will soon be able to defend the country on their own, a move designed to shore up domestic support for the Iraq war while setting the stage for a reduction in U.S. military troops next year," reports the Wall Street Journal.
"President Bush, in an address at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., Wednesday is expected to emphasize progress in training Iraqi troops. But the administration's endorsement comes as Iraqi forces increasingly are operating as sectarian militias, targeting Sunnis on behalf of their Shiite political patrons and raising the possibility of all-out civil war."
Is there any issue members of Congress can't, ah, tackle? Check out this Philadelphia Inquirer | http://www.philly.com/mld/inquirer/news/nation/13279578.htm piece:
"Sen. Arlen Specter, ardent Eagles fan and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, yesterday accused the NFL and its Philadelphia franchise of potentially violating antitrust laws in their treatment of Terrell Owens.
"Speaking at a news conference in Harrisburg, Specter (R., Pa.) said he was investigating the matter and might refer it to the Senate panel's antitrust subcommittee.
"The senator said the league and the Eagles had effectively blacklisted the all-pro wide receiver by forbidding him from playing and by banning other teams from talking to him. He called such treatment 'vindictive and inappropriate.' "
I guess the Alito Supreme Court nomination isn't keeping Specter that busy.
Some interesting posts on the whole unnamed-sources debate, beginning with Slate's Jack Shafer | http://www.slate.com/id/2131023/?nav=fix:
"Anonymous sources usually insist that reporters take the back streets and hang out in parking garages before they'll talk. But last weekend, the Associated Press' Anne Gearan traversed the space-time continuum and took a half-dozen bonus laps on a Mobius strip in reporting her Nov. 19 story about who wasn't Bob Woodward's anonymous source in the Valerie Plame affair. (The story reports that Condoleezza Rice and Douglas Feith deny being the source. At a press conference, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley didn't deny talking to Woodward, but he did cite stories sourced to White House officials who said he wasn't the Plame source.)
"Allow me to reproduce the last two paragraphs of the AP article, and please screw your head on tight before attempting to read:
"In another development, a person familiar with the federal investigation said that Vice President Dick Cheney is not the unidentified source who told Woodward about Plame's CIA status.
"The vice president did not talk with Woodward on the day in question, did not provide the information that's been reported in Woodward's notes and has not had any conversations over the past several weeks about any release for allowing Woodward to testify, said the person, speaking on condition of anonymity because the federal probe is still under way. [Emphasis added.]
"Still got your head? To begin: The Valerie Plame investigation is ostensibly about identifying the anonymous government source or sources who leaked her alleged status as a covert CIA officer. After reading this AP story, I was as bent and twisted as Gumby. In trying to determine who Bob Woodward's anonymous source might be, the story cites another anonymous source to clear the vice president of suspicions that he was the anonymous source for the foremost collector of anonymous sources in our time. As I untangled myself, I sought to unravel the piece's sourcing -- or at least cut through a few Gordian knots."
Arianna | http://www.huffingtonpost.com/arianna-huffington/russert-watch-im-no-bo_b_11314.html does her weekly "Meet the Press" review with WashPost columnists David Broder and Gene Robinson being asked about their reaction to the Woodward controversy:
"BRODER: Consternation, to be honest with you. I think none of us can really understand Bob's silence for two years about his own role in the case. He's explained it by saying he did not want to become involved and did not want to face a subpoena, but he left his editor, our editor, blindsided for two years and he went out and talked disparagingly about the significance of the investigation without disclosing his role in it. Those are hard things to reconcile.
"ROBINSON: I agree with David. Consternation, a certain amount of embarrassment. And, you know, the fact that we can't understand why Bob did what he did. You know, I think that's a very interesting question in this whole incident about confidential sources, about access, about the tradeoffs that we all make for access in granting anonymity for sources. And, you know, I think that's going to continue. I think people are looking at us skeptically.
"So it was refreshing and encouraging that even two of his colleagues were honest enough to acknowledge the Woodward problem. It was a great opportunity for Tim to look at the broken conventions regarding confidential sources and the broken trust between the public and the press.
"But instead, Tim went right back to the old playbook and the old problem: 'Every source I believe is going to want complete assurance that if I give you this information, will you refuse to testify even if it means going to prison.' Stunning though it may seem, Russert really believes that the main problem raised by Judy Miller's and Bob Woodward's roles in Plamegate is: how does the press repair the damage done between journalists and anonymous sources?
"Talk about missing the forest for the trees. But it's not surprising since Russert's, like Woodward's, first loyalty flows upward to the unnamed 'senior administration sources.' Which is why Russert immediately pivoted to the question of how the press can go back to guaranteeing anonymity rather than to the new critical question: under what conditions should the press guarantee anonymity?"
Though I would ask: Is it "loyalty" to sources or a desire not to break a promise under which you accepted information on a confidential basis?
Nora Ephron | http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nora-ephron/what-about-bob_b_11353.html joins the fray in a more personal way:
"I can't believe that it falls to me to explain Bob Woodward. I can't believe it for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that I don't speak to Bob Woodward and Bob Woodward doesn't speak to me. The reason for this is that when I was married to Carl Bernstein, Woodward's former partner, Carl wasn't speaking to Bob, so out of loyalty I wasn't speaking to Bob either.
"Then Carl and I split up and I found myself in the odd position of not speaking to one person out of loyalty to a second person I also wasn't speaking to. Then Carl and Bob became friends again, but I continue not to speak to Bob and vice versa.
"But it's hard to sit by and watch the man be unjustly attacked by people who don't understand the most fundamental truths about him.
"Truth #1: Bob is not a liar. This isn't to say that he hasn't told a lie or two in the course of his life (there was a big whopper during the Deep Throat saga), but fundamentally, you pretty much have to go with Bob's version of events, at least where hard facts are concerned . . .
"Truth #2: Bob has always had trouble seeing the forest for the trees. That's why people love to talk to him; he almost never puts the pieces together in a way that hurts his sources. And that's also why he has so much access: his sources can count on him to convey their version of events."
There's more. I wonder why Bob and Carl weren't talking.
In case you missed it, here is my piece | http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/11/27/AR2005112701140.html examining the increasingly loud debate over Woodward's approach to journalism.
And here's the latest on The Other Novak | http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/11/28/AR2005112801683.html in the Plame case.
This Sy Hersh | http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content/articles/051205fa_fact piece in the New Yorker says Bush is out of touch. Money grafs:
"One former senior official, who served in Bush's first term, spoke extensively about the connection between the President's religious faith and his view of the war in Iraq. After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the former official said, he was told that Bush felt that 'God put me here' to deal with the war on terror . . .
"The former senior official said that after the election he made a lengthy inspection visit to Iraq and reported his findings to Bush in the White House: 'I said to the President, "We're not winning the war." And he asked, "Are we losing?" I said, "Not yet." ' The President, he said, 'appeared displeased' with that answer. 'I tried to tell him,' the former senior official said. 'And he couldn't hear it.' . . .
A former defense official said "that the President had become more detached, leaving more issues to Karl Rove and Vice-President Cheney. 'They keep him in the gray world of religious idealism, where he wants to be anyway,' the former defense official said. Bush's public appearances, for example, are generally scheduled in front of friendly audiences, most often at military bases. Four decades ago, President Lyndon Johnson, who was also confronted with an increasingly unpopular war, was limited to similar public forums. 'Johnson knew he was a prisoner in the White House,' the former official said, 'but Bush has no idea.' "
Could Katie Couric be heading to CBS? Here's what Max Robins | http://www.broadcastingcable.com/article/CA6286862.html?display=Max+Robins&referral=SUPP says in Broadcasting & Cable:
"The drumbeat is getting louder and louder in the halls of CBS, signaling that Katie Couric is going to leap over to the network this spring when her NBC contract runs out. For the past year, CBS Chairman Leslie Moonves has been quietly wooing Couric to be Dan Rather's replacement as anchor of CBS Evening News. But now the talks are being conducted with a new urgency.
"Until recently, the job had been a tough sell, even for a salesman's salesman like Moonves. The news division was in disarray in the aftermath of Rather's discredited 60 Minutes report last year about President Bush's National Guard service, and it couldn't have strengthened Moonves' hand with Couric that Andrew Heyward remained in his job as CBS News president for months, even as rumors of his impending departure swirled.
"With Heyward's recent exit and the naming of network sports-division chief Sean McManus to replace him, CBS becomes a much more attractive home for Couric."
New York | http://newyorkmetro.com/nymetro/news/media/features/15199/index3.html magazine offers some caveats:
"One rival network estimate put the CBS bill for hiring Couric at $50 million, which would include the cost of grabbing talent from other networks, Roone Arledge style.
"Still, it would be hard for her to leave NBC. She owes her career to Jeff Zucker, the former Today executive producer who now runs the network, and in some ways to the show itself. Even her competitors acknowledge her gifts as a morning-television personality and her tremendous worth to NBC. 'When you think of NBC, you don't think of Brian Williams,' a competing producer says. 'You think of Katie.' She has become a pop-culture icon for a generation of American women. Her boyfriends, her hair, her salary, her legs -- all of it has become the stuff of legend."
Hey, I'm way too professional to think about her legs (though it's hard not to keep track of her ever-blonder hair).