Glass houses | VailDaily.com

Glass houses

Butch Mazzuca

An editorial is a statement or article by a news organization (generally a newspaper) that expresses an opinion rather than attempting to simply report news, as the latter should (ideally) be done without bias. Editorials are often not written by the regular reporters of the news organization, but are instead collectively authored by an editorial board, in many cases without bylines. If written by an editorial board, editorials represent the newspaper’s “official” positions on issues. To emphasize this point, editorials are almost always printed on their own page of the newspaper, they normally speak to current events or public controversies, and they are in theory labeled as editorials to avoid confusion with news coverage, except of course in foreign newspapers condemning the U.S.After Hurricane Katrina, the following appeared in Paris’ Le Monde, the French version of The New York Times: “Is this America?” “The entire world watched as American women and children wailed for help, as sick people expired of thirst on hot sidewalks. Such scenes of blacks fleeing devastation and despair are familiar from Somalia or Angola. Yet the images came from the world’s richest country.”Also from Le Monde: “America is discovering … that it harbors the Third World in its own bosom. … The national shame must surely prompt some soul searching.” And from Paris’ Liberation: “The devastating waves of Katrina have unmasked the real face of America’s profoundly corrupt society.” The French press further opined, “The … indifference was so appalling that it roused the American press from its patriotic torpor. … America and the world have seen that the superpower’s leader lacks leadership.” All of this was written before a single investigative report was published to ascertain the real problems with the relief effort. Steve Chapman, writing in The Chicago Tribune, said, “These things are called disasters for a reason: They have terrible consequences, most unavoidable, some unforeseeable. When nature unleashes its fury, it leaves a mess no amount of human ingenuity can instantly dispel. … What should we expect after the largest natural disaster in American history?” You will find no disagreement here for the misjudgments and lack of planning on the part of the administration, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco and of course “Mr. Finger Pointer” himself, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, who in July told the citizens of New Orleans that in the event of a hurricane they were basically on their own. But why the unrelenting criticism from the European press? Don’t they realize that people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones?After the heat wave of 2003 that killed 14,847 in France (and 40,000 in Europe), it took more than a year for the French government to release heat wave fatality estimates that corroborated estimates from overwhelmed undertakers. In fact, several government agencies are still challenging reports from “official” sources.French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin defended his government’s handling of the killer heat wave amid reports that the final death toll “could hit 5,000,” far below the actual number the heat wave eventually claimed. A significant percentage of those who died were elderly because in France most retirement homes are not equipped with air conditioning. Furthermore, while there are contingency plans for a variety of catastrophes and natural events, high heat had never been considered a major hazard and so such plans for heat waves did not exist at that time.Coincidentally, the heat wave occurred in August, a month in which a very high percentage of French citizens, including government ministers and physicians, were on vacation.Many bodies were not claimed for weeks because relatives were on holiday. A refrigerated warehouse outside Paris was used by undertakers because they didn’t have enough space in their own facilities. A full month after the heat wave, dozens of bodies were still unclaimed in the Paris area and were buried at the direction of city officials.Shortcomings with France’s health system were surely a matter of great controversy, just as the less than stellar response was in New Orleans. Nevertheless, President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin laid the blame on the 35-hour workweek, doctors who were vacationing during August, and families who didn’t take their elderly with them on holiday. Others blamed Health Minister Jean-François Mattei for not coming back from his vacation when the heat wave struck, and his aides for blocking emergency measures in public hospitals, such as recalling physicians. One particularly stinging criticism came from the Union of Emergency Physicians, who blamed the Raffarin administration for ignoring warnings from health and emergency professionals and trying to minimize the crisis.At the time of this writing, the death toll from Hurricane Katrina hovers at about 850. Two years ago 40,000 perished in a natural disaster on the other side of the Atlantic. So perhaps it would be wise for some in the European press to keep in mind the words of early 20th century historian and philosopher Will Durrant, who said, “Civilization exists by geological consent, subject to change without notice,” and quit throwing stones when their homes are made of glass, too.Butch Mazzuca, a local Realtor and ski instructor, writes a weekly column for the Daily. He can be reached at bmazz68@earthlink.net. This column, as in the case of all personal columns, does not necessarily reflect the views of the Vail Daily.Vail, Colorado