Sometimes it is true in journalism that no good deed goes unpunished. And it's always true, in all occupations, that you can't please everyone. I say this in response to the negative e-mails that arrived after a Tuesday Nightly News broadcast (Netcast link) that we were justifiably proud of. For the few posted on this site, I receive scores more on every major topic personally. Specifically, with each of our five post-storm visits to this city, the long-suffering storm victims in other areas of the Gulf region complain that New Orleans is getting too much of our attention. While the reasons for being here are obvious and numerous (including, but not limited to the fact that we were here DURING Katrina and have pledged to follow the progress of this city that saw so much human suffering and death), we have taken the broadcast on similar multi-night trips to devastated portions of Mississippi, and we have covered Florida's ongoing problems as well. It's a big region with a lot of problems. Many factors go into our coverage decisions. Our coverage will never please everyone, but we're in it for the story of a crisis of enormous scope.
One of the revelations of yesterday for our traveling team (two camera crews and three producers -- a flattering number of people -- and a long walk from my first job in television journalism, when I was writer, reporter, cameraman and producer... operating out of a car trunk in the Midwest) was our first exposure to Mayor Ray Nagin. In all my time in this city, covering this one event and the aftermath over the course of six trips, I had never seen or met him personally That finally happened yesterday but not before hours of planning, cajoling... and I can't rule out begging and polite threats. Nagin has now distilled his answer to the "what did you do wrong here?" question to three categories which he somewhat forthrightly recited to us. The single most striking aspect of meeting the mayor was what had to happen BEFORE we were allowed to meet the mayor. He has apparently hired a P.R. team of loyalists who could easily protect the White House. And by that I mean: the house, its occupants and all 18 acres. In fact, someone in our group remarked (and mind you: this is an interview on the second floor "atrium level" of the downtown Sheraton) that we've conducted interviews with Presidents of the United States with less discussion of camera angles, walking distances, duration, lighting and timing. What's happening here is clear: he's suddenly a national figure under fire (and deflecting complaints that he's in over his head even now that the waters have receded) and limiting and targeting his media exposure is now seen (presumably by the mayor) as crucial. A journalist friend from our NBC station in Philadelphia said he's been staking out the mayor for three weeks. And Mr. Nagin, I've found, has switched from T-shirts to suits, owing, one would guess, to his almost-weekly lobbying trips to Washington and his upcoming re-election run. I don't know how much coverage he's watched of what has transpired in his own city: after he opened his press conference yesterday with a slap at the national media for negative portrayals of New Orleans, he then seemed genuinely surprised to learn that an NBC News team, including yours truly, rode out Katrina inside the dome. Live and learn. Mr. Nagin was perfectly charming during his time with us (video link), and immediately afterward walked through the lobby of the not-quite-back-to-normal Sheraton Downtown... on his way to a waiting car.
Last night here in New Orleans was fascinating. Our team had dinner in one of the 26 percent of the restaurants that the city says have re-opened. The recovery is spotty. The famous and beautiful gas lamps in the Quarter are back on, but the streets are virtually desolate, considering their natural state is a teeming mass of people who are nowhere near sober. Men eat dinner in pairs or small groups. They're all contractors. The shortage of women has been chronicled by the L.A. Times in vivid fashion. Military police roam the streets in pairs, trying hard to blend in while wearing fatigues. And the sight of feces and heroin needles in a Superdome stairwell yesterday set us all back. The management team there was less than thrilled that the image was televised. But we called it as we saw it, and seeing this city up close these days isn't always pretty. The thanks we received from fellow diners in the restaurant last night for our past coverage here was beyond gratifying -- and a solid reminder of the power this medium can have when it chases a cause that needs urgent attention.
Today we're off to the Lower Ninth Ward. More later.