Minnesotans Are Pissed Off

Readers to Strib: Hit ’em with the chair already!

I have never seen our readers so angry. For two weeks they’ve raged, though generally not about news coverage. They simply needed a messenger and I was handy.

Here are some of their messages: They are livid about the slow reaction of the federal government to the disaster caused by Hurricane Katrina. They are sickened by the sight of fellow citizens dying — not from a force of nature but from neglect by leaders. They have questions and they want answers, not political spin that labels those tough questions “Bush-bashing.” Any confidence developed since Sept. 11, 2001, that government was better prepared for a possible terrorist attack on an American city has been badly shaken.

They do not want the truth to get lost as officials scramble for high ground and political safety, and they are looking to this newspaper to help ensure it doesn’t.

The Star Tribune, which for two weeks has offered stories and photos that have made us weep over the human toll of this catastrophe, must not fail these readers in holding government accountable for a massive failure of leadership that contributed to the death toll.

Stories that lay bare the flawed response before, during and after the hurricane must be put on equal footing with the wrenching stories of human catastrophe as the coverage moves forward. The newspaper has published some very strong stories raising questions about the federal government’s astonishingly poor planning and reaction. But none of those stories cracked page one until Thursday, 10 days after the hurricane, although there had been references to the topic in stories otherwise devoted to on-the-scene calamity.

The failure of government to respond is front and center for many Minnesotans who are no strangers to the challenges of extreme weather but have shown again and again how quickly and capably they and their elected officials respond to disaster. Ever practical, Minnesotans want to figure out how to fix what happened to New Orleans because they know it doesn’t have to work this way.

Heidi and Tim Culbert wrote to me with deep concern rooted in their backgrounds. He’s a pediatrician and she’s a school nurse on leave to finish up a master’s degree in public health at the University of Minnesota. “Both of us have worked with refugees in Africa and cannot believe how inadequate the response has been from the richest, most advanced nation in the world. We are outraged!” they wrote. The Culberts worked with refugees in Uganda in 1987.

Joanne Johnson, a retired travel agent living in Edina, said, “I’m appalled at the Star Tribune’s front page. Instead of putting the blame where it belongs, your headline blames the anarchy. It’s the federal government! Where is the help for these people?”

Via Romenesko.

A.