Friday, June 25, 2010

Leadership and Information

San Diego has had two major fires since 2000. The first was in 2005 and the Fire Chief was a man named Jeff Bowman. He would conduct daily briefings which were shown on television and which I found helpful and reassuring. He stood in front of a large map which showed the current boundaries of the fire and would point out precisely where the fire was presently advancing, where his crews were, where he was moving them and what they were doing. He would say things like, “We have the fire at a stop here and are doing cleanup operations, so we have moved most of those crews over here where the fire is still advancing at five miles per hour.”

In 2007 the Chief was a woman named Jarman who was undoubtedly well qualified, but she communicated very poorly. She stood in front of a map on which the fire lines seldom changed at all and were poorly defined, never referred to the map other than in very vague terms, and used technical terms that few if any of her audience understood. As a result, I was frustrated by not knowing where the fire was at any given time and having
no idea where it was going. Was it approaching my neighborhood?

I was reminded of the difference between the two when listening to Obama’s White House address regarding the Gulf oil disaster. That speech left me restless and discontent. That disaster had been unfolding with rumor and accusation, and there is no clear sense of the actual scope of the disaster itself or of the response to it. When the address was announced I thought that maybe we would finally get some clarity on the situation, but all we got was some platitudes.

Matt Zoller Seitz, in a Salon article Tuesday which was about the Daily Show, had a statement that partially said it,

Stewart's remarks suggested (accurately, I think) that what the nation really wanted and needed was a frank assessment of the oil spill: how bad it was, how bad it was going to get, whether BP or the government could do anything about it in the short term, and if so, how long it might take. The lead "action" in Obama's report to the country was the creation of a blue-ribbon panel to study the problem and recommend long-term policies on drilling and environmental safety.

So as the Deepwater Horizon disaster continues to unfold the public continues to be “informed” by rumor and sensationalism, because our leadership is too busy being cautious and politically correct to provide us with real, unbiased information.

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