Friday, August 06, 2004

Update to the Memphis Snub Post

Yesterday's post on the Iraqi delegation / Memphis screw-up was just my reaction to what I knew at that point, and to answer some emails I'd gotten from other folks around the blogosphere and some blog posts I'd seen. (Like Janis and Terry and Memphis Redblogs and Michael Totten, for a few.)

Just for your own reading pleasure, here's the CNN story, which is yet another version of the original AP story based on Jody Callahan's Commercial Appeal story.

I also caught a few moments of Councilwoman Carol Chumney on FOX13 last night. She was repeating her stuff from the Phlegming show. That news bit ended with Mearl Purvis, the anchor, leaning into the camera and staring intently, saying that Mayor Herenton, through his Executive Assistant Gale Carson Jones, had not known of the visit or he would have been happy to meet with them. This contradicts Chumney's assertion that Herenton did know and just wasn't interested in the bother and time.

Also, from Memphis Redblogs, are a couple of links to Commercial Appeal stuff. In this editorial they clear up one point for me. Elisabeth Silverman was not, as I had assumed, someone from a national organisation or the Federal government setting up the whole Iraqi delegation tour, but a local with something called the Memphis Council for International Visitors. On the one hand, it makes clear why there were such fundamental screw-ups in the handling of the visit itself and the sloppiness of coordinating government officials. This group was amateurish. On the other, it makes me wonder, if they've done things like this before, why they didn't nail everything down securely. They were facing a very short time frame here, so why invite disaster by not getting things written down and verbally confirmed?

They couldn't even get proper transportation to the airport to pick the delegation up! I wasn't aware that it was Silverman's fault directly, but that seems clear. The Iraqis had to hire taxis themselves! Trust me, the trip from the airport to the downtown, via taxi, is hella expensive; $20 or $30 dollars per cab, easily. Fouling that up was pretty basic. We still don't know why the cabs went to City Hall instead of the Convention and Visitors Bureau space, as per plan. Did the Iraqis have to do it themselves, using the only name they knew? Or was an escort at the airport, but confused themself? I'd like to know.

Also, reading this, second Commercial Appeal editorial it seems I may have been a bit off. The two Iraqis who were robbed were somewhere near the Walgreen's on Main, which strictly speaking isn't Beale Street. However, not mentioned is the hotel they were staying in, nor how far they were from it at the time of the robbery.

My guess is that they were staying in the Peabody Hotel, as a great many official guests to the City do. I understand now why it wouldn't be mentioned! Can't upset Mr. Belz, can we? If the robbery was close to the hotel, then calling it "Beale Street" actually would apply, as the two are synoymous for civic leader types. Again, protecting the cash cow seems to have been a factor in reporting. Sometimes the CA will throw in extraneous stuff into stories to plump their own agendas; sometimes they don't. You have to know their biases to parse the stories....

And I still come back to Councilwoman Carol Chumney. It struck me last night, as I was reading before bedtime, that Carol's actions are just like those of the person who is so intent on protecting themselves, on "setting the record straight" that she will draw up a "timeline" of events that points the finger at everyone else while remaining either silent or laudatory on her own role.

I've said it before and I'll repeat it here once more: Chumney is a dull and earnest grind. Whenever I see her on camera she has this vapid, slightly confused look of someone who doesn't quite get what's going on, but sticks to her script in the belief that it will eventually save her. She is an ambitious, self-interested camera hog, and not a protector of the little people who makes sure the truth gets out. The only agenda she advances is her own.

She's been using this black eye for Memphis to create a sense about herself of the good girl struggling against the bad guys. Of Joan of Arc trying to convince the French priests and aristocrats that she's the one. In her version of events, she's the only one who comes out looking good. Has anyone else noticed that?

So. Local groups tries to do good and raise our national media profile. They are in over their heads and don't nail down the details. Disaster ensues. Local politicians, more interested in their own turf and status and ass-covering than in how this presents nationally make Memphis look like a back-hills nest of boobs: Dogpatch via Bull Connor's Birmingham. Hilarity ensues. Then come the recriminations and finger-pointing.

Me? I still lay blame with Silverman, Chumney and Brown. Silverman was unexcusably clumsy and ill-prepared. Chumney refuses to accept her status as the red-headed stepchild of the City Council who has to make amends (or obeisance) so she can get things done, so she's constantly butting heads with her peers and introducing new, unnecessary complications into her regular relationships with them. Brown was simply over-reacting and grand-standing, out of an obnoxious sense of entitlement and place common to our government "public servants."

County Mayor AC Wharton seems to have kept himself clean. But City Mayor Herenton has once again reinforced his public impression of being inaccesible and distant from his city. Hearing that he's not interested in these kinds of goodwill meetings comes as a surprise to no one. That the Commercial Appeal sides with him and keeps him clear is no surprise either. They have hitched their wagon to the small coterie of people who are out to make a fortune from downtown Memphis at the expense of, well, everyone else.

But has anyone else noticed how Herenton has grown astonishingly remote in his latest term as Mayor? He's almost never in the media, even in the wildly partisan Commercial Appeal, nor seen or photographed at public events not directly related to his offical duties? Almost no interviews with anyone. When ABC WPTY-24 did their special on Hurricane Elvis, anchor Cameron Harper did a hilarious bit where he interviewed an empty chair because Herenton refused to participate. Our Mayor is hiding, taking his imperial impulses to ridiculous and offensive extremes.

But that's another post. I seem to have finished this one.

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