Sunday is the big day for daily newspapers, especially papers that are in the sort of trouble the San Diego Union-Tribune is in these days. Circulation's down, and payroll's being slashed. Many of the U-T's customers subscribe only to the Sunday edition because that's when the paper's crammed with such bonuses as coupons, lifestyle sections and 'Insight,' the extended opinion section.So, you'd think the paper's leadership would pull out all the stops in the 'Insight' section. But what do we get? 'Insight' editor Robert Caldwell. And if he's the best this city's monopoly paper can do, the U-T's in serious trouble—and so are its readers.Take Caldwell's opinion piece last Sunday. In '‘Tale of two cities': San Diego proved to be no New Orleans,' Caldwell went down the landmine-riddled road that numerous right-wing talk-radio gasbags went down, a path no levelheaded, independent-thinking journalist would travel. His comparison of hurricane Katrina and the 2007 wildfires was partisan, elitist, revisionist by omission and simplistic and contained thinly veiled racism. It was an embarrassment. Let's take it apart point-by-point:• Caldwell questioned why law and order broke down in New Orleans while San Diego became a model of effective crisis response. He wrote that 'even granting the vast differences in the scale of these natural calamities—fire damage last week countywide here is currently estimated at $1 billion-plus; Katrina's toll of property damage in New Orleans was put at $21 billion—these questions are worth asking.'
First of all, why are these questions worth asking? What, Mr. Caldwell, is the point? We'll get to that later. For now, we'll note that Caldwell has already found the difference. By the economic-damage measure, using his numbers, he's pointed out that Katrina was 20 times worse (other sources put the property cost of Katrina as high as $81 billion). And why omit other numbers, such as the death toll and the number of people permanently displaced? Katrina killed more than 1,800 people, displaced roughly 770,000 and destroyed about 300,000 homes. The recent wildfires killed 12 (we certainly do not mean to diminish their awful loss), temporarily disrupted the lives of half a million and destroyed less than 1,300 homes. No comparison.• Caldwell praises the leadership of President Bush and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff in the wake of the wildfires while letting them off the hook for Katrina with a gentle 'kick in the pants'—meanwhile, he upbraids New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco as 'dithering,' 'manifestly inadequate' and 'inept.'
We wouldn't pin any medals on the chests of Nagin and Blanco—Nagin, in particular, was slow to issue evacuation orders and failed to adequately plan for the evacuation of people with no way to get out. But it was Bush who was warned in the days leading up to Katrina that there was a good chance New Orleans' system of levees would fail, and it was Bush who politicked in Arizona and California and vacationed in Texas while people died in Louisiana after the levees did fail. Flood protection is a federal responsibility, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has admitted fault. There were 53 breaches in the system, flooding 80 percent of the city, making an epic catastrophe out of what otherwise would have been a terrible storm. Some 700 dead bodies were eventually recovered from dried-out city streets. It was Bush's FEMA director, Michael Brown, who failed at every turn once it was clear local and state authorities couldn't control the emergency. It's Bush, Chertoff and Brown who deserve most of the blame.
• Caldwell foolishly compares the situation at the Superdome with Qualcomm Stadium and has the nerve to say that the problems at the Superdome resulted from a 'civic culture' in New Orleans that was 'sadly deficient.' He says political corruption, crime and bad schools were the ingredients in a recipe for disorder in New Orleans while San Diego's virtuous culture led to the superior conditions at Qualcomm and an outpouring of volunteerism. What?
First, the Superdome was surrounded by water, thanks to the levee breaks. Relief and supplies could not get to the evacuees. Qualcomm was nowhere near the burn areas and was easily accessible for anyone who wished to provide help. What Caldwell seems to be saying with his 'civic culture' contrast is that the black people of New Orleans don't give a damn about their community or their neighbors while the white people of San Diego do.
• Caldwell lauds Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for living up to 'action-hero' status but later jabs 'the state' for a delay in mobilizing air resources. Why mention the governor by name when dishing up praise and criticizing a faceless government when doling out criticism? We think we know why, and it answers a previous question: What is the point of Caldwell's piece? The point seems to be to puff up Republican politicians. Caldwell gushed like a broken San Diego water main all over numerous Republican officials, who, when you think about it, were really just doing the job they were elected to do.You deserve better than this GOP-ass-kissing drivel.