Several of our readers smelled a left-wing conspiracy behind Marilou Johanek's column on Sept. 9, when she wrote about the deeply moving appearance of Aaron Broussard, a suburban New Orleans official, on NBC-TV's Meet the Press.
Voice choked with tears, he told the story of another county official whose mother was trapped in a nursing home. As our columnist recounted it, "Every day she called her son asking when help was coming. Every day he assured her help is on the way. " But it never came. "She drowned on Friday night," he told viewers.
The column went on to use that story as an illustration of the fact that "the last remaining superpower appeared powerless to help untold thousands."
Days later, it turned out that the story as told by Mr. Broussard wasn't exactly true. The man's mother was in the nursing home, and she indeed was killed by Hurricane Katrina. But it turned out she died the first or second day of the storm.
"If Marilou Johanek was a journalist, she might have uncovered Mr. Broussard's attempt to twist this tragedy for political gain. It seems, however, that Marilou Johanek just couldn't wait to repeat a lie," one angry reader wrote.
So was our columnist reckless or unethical?
I don't think so.
When she wrote her column, nobody in the national press had expressed any doubts about the story. It was only later that it was revealed that the patients in the nursing home died on the day the levees broke, not days later
Why Aaron Broussard told such a wrong story in great detail is not at all clear. The man whose mother died, Thomas Rodrigue, did not angrily condemn Mr. Broussard. He said he thought the official, who, as he noted, was surrounded by death and under a great deal of strain, must have been confused.
It now seems clear that there was plenty of confusion and ineptness in the response to Hurricane Katrina at all levels of government. And the national media was perhaps too quick to accept at face value many things, including Mayor Ray Nagin's statement that there might easily be 10,000 dead in his city.
According to prosecutors, the management of the nursing home was mostly to blame for not evacuating the patients before the storm, despite warnings.
But columnists can only work with the facts they have at the time - and no one was challenging Mr. Broussard's story when our column was written.
I do wish that The Blade had published a correction or a clarification when new information came out several days later. We should have been quicker to set the record straight. Hopefully this column has done so.
Able Danger: I have had a number of e-mails and phone calls complaining that The Blade was suppressing the truth about "Able Danger": a secret military unit that supposedly identified Mohammed Atta as a terrorist long before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Atta was the leader of the al-Qaeda cell responsible. For some reason, this information was apparently never passed on to the FBI.
But The Blade has, in fact, had at least five stories or columns and an editorial about Able Danger since August. Our editorial noted that the information had apparently never been passed to the FBI, and called for an investigation of the entire matter.
What isn't clear is what the Sept. 11 commission was told and whether there has been any obstruction or suppression of the truth. Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter (R., Pa.) has said he intends to look into the matter, adding that he thought "the Pentagon owes the American people an explanation."
Ron Royhab, executive editor of The Blade, agrees we owe it to our readers to continue to report the facts in this case and said the paper will continue to do so, as they become available.
Anyone with a concern about fairness or accuracy in The Blade is invited to write me, c/o The Blade; 541 N. Superior St., Toledo, 43660, or at my Detroit office: 189 Manoogian Hall, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI 48202; call me, at 1-888-746-8610 or email me at OMBLADE@aol.com.
I cannot promise to address every question in the newspaper, but I do promise that everyone who contacts me with a serious question will get a personal reply.
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