As much as I've criticized Mayor Ray Nagin, I've admired his ability to shake off his critics, particularly after Katrina. It's part of a politician's job to have a thick hide, because criticism sometimes harsh criticism comes with the territory. Generally, Nagin has done a good job of not letting us see him sweat. Last week, however, the mayor finally allowed that the criticism gets to him. There's no shame in that; he's human like the rest of us. Unfortunately, he chose to show his humanity in a mindless rant on WWL-TV's Morning Show.
"My disappointment is the way some in the media are handling me personally," Nagin said last Thursday (Feb. 21). "Our local newspaper, for example, had me pointing a gun at the police chief. This got all over the Internet, all over the nation and is now sitting on the most racist Web sites in America. Hate groups now have that picture, so now I am personally more at risk my family is more at risk."
Nagin went on to blast WWL for "what's getting ready to happen with my schedule. You put my personal schedule out there. I am coming back to the station, and me and your news director are going to be out in the parking lot having a good one-on-one."
Boiling it down to English, the mayor was trying to make two points: first, he feels that coverage of him has been unnecessarily "personal" (rather than focused on his policies), as illustrated by the infamous Times-Picayune snapshot of him holding a gun in the direction of Police Chief Warren Riley and laughing; and second, that WWL's examination of his 2007 official schedule last Thursday night "crossed the line," whatever that means. Both media transgressions, he says, put him and his family at risk.
Let's examine his criticisms.
First, the newspaper apologized on the front page and admitted the gun photo did not accurately represent what the mayor was doing. It's rare for a major newspaper to own up to a mistake on the front page, but sometimes an apology doesn't really heal the wound. That's part of Nagin's point, and it's a legitimate one.
As for the racist Web sites that allegedly have threatened him, a number of reporters and bloggers have been unable to "find anything beyond the usual blather that clogs the blogosphere. If the mayor fears that the T-P photo made him the target of racists, he's a little late. Many of his own statements since Katrina did that; the gun photo, unfair as it may have been, was merely the latest in a long line of excuses for nameless cowards to vent about him online.
One last note on the gun photo: If the mayor had not picked up the gun in the first place, none of this would have happened. He's not a cop, and the WDSU-TV video clearly shows he's not a gun enthusiast, either.
Regarding the mayor's second point that WWL's Lee Zurik "crossed the line" in his review of Nagin's 2007 official schedule I first must acknowledge that I have an affiliation with WWL as its on-air political analyst. That said, Zurik's report was about as balanced as any I've seen on Nagin. Dillard University professor Gary Clark defended Nagin's schedule as a matter of style and cited Ronald Reagan's record as a "9 to 5" president. It was a very good point.
My point, which is shared by many, is that Nagin's schedule bespeaks a mayor who is disengaged. If he's really "bustin' his butt," as he claims, why doesn't it show on his schedule?
Lastly, his accusation that WWL put his family at risk by airing his 2007 schedule which his administration turned over in response to a public records request is preposterous. The only way that schedule could possibly assist someone out to harm the mayor is to make them focus on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays because he often can't be found on Fridays and Mondays.
Overall, the rant showed that our mayor is really stressed out. Welcome home, Mr. Mayor.