"Stuck on stupid"

It sounded good today when Lt. Gen. Russel Honore — the fellow charged with bringing order out of the chaos in New Orleans — lashed out at reporters who kept asking him why the evacuation process before Hurricane Katrina was so clumsy compared to the well-oiled machine moving people out of the way for Hurricane Rita.
Honore snapped, “Let’s not get stuck on the last storm. You’re asking last storm questions for people who are concerned about the future storm. Don’t get stuck on stupid, reporters.”
The general insisted, “We are moving forward. And don’t confuse the people please. You are part of the public message. So help us get the message straight. And if you don’t understand, maybe you’ll confuse it to the people. That’s why we like follow-up questions. But right now, it’s the convention center, and move on.”
When the next reporter had the temerity to ignore the general’s order and ask anyway, Hnore fired right between the poor guy’s eyes, “You are stuck on stupid. I’m not going to answer that question.”
You can hear the old drill sergeant laughing.
But it’s really not funny.
It’s important for people, especially young journalists, to recognize that it’s not the job of the press to serve as stenographers for the powerful. Yes, we get their message out, like it or not. But we also have a duty to ask hard questions, even to ask hard questions that generals or presidents or CEOs don’t want to answer.
And when they refuse to answer them, to ask again, and again and again.
Sometimes those questions sound dumb. Sometimes, they are dumb.
But if we don’t ask, who will?
It’s not “stuck on stupid” to want to find out how come hundreds of mostly poor, often elderly people were left behind in New Orleans to drown or die of thirst when Katrina slammed ashore Aug. 29.
We’re not talking ancient history here. We’re talking about a catastrophic failure by the government.
Gen. Honore didn’t botch the job earlier — it wasn’t his responsibility back then — but it’s perfectly reasonable to try to find out from him how come things are working this time around that failed the last time.
That’s not “stuck on stupid.”
That’s our job.

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