Thursday, December 30, 2010

Times Breaks Its Storm White Out

We have been questioning the failure of the NY Times to editorialize on the city's slow response to the storm, and today it finally speaks up: "As of Wednesday afternoon, more than two days after the last flake had fallen in the huge post-Christmas blizzard, only a quarter of the residential streets in South Brooklyn had been plowed. Large sections of Queens and Staten Island remained paralyzed. With ambulance services taking hours to reach some people, Mayor Michael Bloomberg finally stopped being so casual about the city’s response to the 20-inch snowfall. He awoke to its seriousness and admitted that something had gone seriously wrong."

And, once again, the ghost of John Lindsay appears: "Mr. Bloomberg and his chastened top aides promised that almost every road should be cleared by Thursday, but in the outer boroughs, the damage was done. Neighborhoods that already felt like distant planets in the mayor’s mental solar system began having flashbacks to 1969 when a 15-inch snowfall was left untended in Queens for days, severely tarnishing the reputation of Mayor John Lindsay."

The Times underscores the fact that something went drastically wrong in this city-and points to the efficiency of the response on Long Island: "Something went awry in this storm, and no one seems to know what it was. On Long Island, virtually every tertiary road was cleared by Tuesday night, compared with 66 percent of those roads in the city. Did the high winds or rapid snowfall make plowing harder? Or perhaps it was budget cuts in the Sanitation Department, where the commissioner, John Doherty, acknowledged that a loss of 400 slots forced him to use 100 workers who were inadequately trained."

While the NY Post goes on to promiscuously blame an as yet unproven worker slow down, the Times sees this-as everyone should-in terms of managerial incompetence. But it fails to really chastise the mayor-even in a speculative manner-and only mildly chides Bloomberg for his deflecting sarcasm: "The mayor, as he has been known to do, found it necessary to blame citizens, castigating those who drove during the storm and were then forced to abandon their cars in traffic lanes."

In keeping with this mildly rebuking style, the paper basically tells Bloomberg to cut out the insouciance in the face of incompetence and tragedy (gee, why can't the Times reach for this kind of rhetorical flourish when it is certainly called for?): "Mr. Bloomberg, who won a third term based on his reputation for competence, promised a full investigation into the sluggish response once the emergency is over. Angry City Council members have vowed to hold their own hearings. But whatever the outcome, may the storm at least spell the end of the mayor’s use of weary sarcasm as a response to the legitimate concerns of citizens — particularly in neighborhoods that now seem even farther from Gracie Mansion."

This is as good as far as it goes-but the Times missed the opportunity to place the recently outed CityTime scandal into the context of the failure to adequately respond to the storm surge. If it had done so, it might have been able to use the opportunity to more seriously question the mayor's, "reputation for competence," and its own role in propagating that myth.