That was President Bush patting FEMA chief Michael Brown on the back while disaster was unfolding in New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina.
Bush’s cavalier remark, so divorced from reality, came to mind yesterday when I read a column by the Bee’s executive editor, Joyce Terhaar. She extolled the newspaper’s coverage of the Kings arena saga and its 40 or so front-page stories on the issue this year. She praised a variety of reporters, columnists and editors by name for “working to give Sacramentans context about city spending plans, the impact on downtown and many other issues.”
The Bee’s been doing a heck of a job, Terhaar essentially said, perhaps feeling the need to reassure a skeptical public that the city’s only daily newspaper has been providing fair, balanced and accurate coverage on an issue that could be crucial to Sacramento’s well-being for decades to come.
Ironically, the paper’s editorial board yesterday was bemoaning the unknown impact that spending $258 million of city money for an arena would have on three civic assets: the Community Center Theater, the B Street Theatre and the Crocker Art Museum. The three are in need of close to $70 million from the city. City manager John Shirey acknowledges a lack of funds to do everything.
“Before City Council members sign off on investing at least $258 million into an arena deal, they should have a full understanding of what that would mean for those community facilities. They don’t have that now.”
Once again, the paper is a day late and a dollar short. Why hasn’t the Bee’s news staff been exploring this question and writing a series of front-page stories about it? These are three important cultural institutions in town. Stories on this subject could have been written months ago. The newspaper could have taken the initiative to ask council members hard questions. A city that is already $2 billion in debt has to make hard choices on what will be funded and what won’t.
Instead of fulfilling its journalistic responsibility to be watchdog for the public interest, the Bee has played the role of arena cheerleader. The editorial board hopped aboard the arena express, columnists went all lovey-dovey for billionaire “whales,” and reporters focused on daily process stories and press releases.
No one stepped back and followed the money trail. Who demanded an arena at Downtown Plaza instead of the railyard or Natomas? Who stands to gain from that decision? What developers own nearby property? Why is city land being given away and to whom?
Why has there been no serious analysis of the claims that an arena would generate thousands of jobs and millions in economic growth? Or the danger of privatizing public parking or taking out huge loans against presumed future revenue? Or why the public has been denied a vote by crafty politicians?
The Bee hasn’t been eager to ask hard questions or pursue the dark side of publicly funded sports arenas. Instead of hard-nosed journalism, the paper has played a PR role.
In that regard, it’s done a heck of a job.