Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Tacky Response To Tragedy.

I just finished watching a live news conference concerning yesterday's tragic Metro train crash in Washington, hosted by D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty. What an exercise in frustration!

Nearly half a dozen people spoke, from Fenty to Metro's General Manager, to the Chairman of Metro's Board of Directors and DC's Fire Chief. Between those four, there was very, very little new information released. We did learn that Metro has set aside $250,000 to help bury the dead, and we did learn the names of some of the people who died in the crash, but for the first half-hour, we mostly heard either old information - stuff we had heard in the hours after the crash - or we heard Fenty and others thanking each other for the hard work they had put in for the previous 24 hours. Essentially, these public servants were kissing each others asses for doing what they are being paid to do - their JOBS.

This is not a new complaint of mine. It's been a pet peeve of mine ever since I was a cub reporter covering deadly boring hearings on Capitol Hill... Hearings that largely consisted of Senators thanking their esteemed colleagues from South Carolina for having the courage and fortitude to hold hearings on whatever subject the hearing happened to be about.

But back to the rant at hand... The worst part of this news conference is that there WAS real news to be reported, but it came from the last speaker - Debbie Hersman, the National Transportation Safety Board member overseeing the investigation into the crash. She had real and new and compelling information, including that the striking train was operating under automatic control when the crash took place, and that the operator apparently DID try to use the emergency brake.

In the news business, this is what we call burying the lead. The NTSB board member should have gone first, not last. She had, by far, the most important information to present. However, if she had gone first, the TV stations carrying the 5:30 pm news conference in the middle of their newscasts might not have stuck around to hear Mayor Fenty and others kissing the backsides of their colleagues. So instead, the politicos kept us all waiting around so they could make their political points before mucking up the news conference with real NEWS.

So tacky and so sad.

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