Adam Nossiter's parting shot

The New York Times recently announced that their one man bureau based here in N.O. will be leaving. South Louisiana is simply no longer a compelling story. The Times' man is taking up an assignment heading their west Africa bureau instead.

So Adam Nossiter, the reporter in question is skipping out on us. Mostly I'm indifferent to this news. Nossiter's record has been pretty mixed insofar as his reports on the state of post-Katrina New Orleans go. The good thing about his presence was the national attention his articles continued to garner for this troubled region, years after Katrina. The downside to his reporting... well.... was oftentimes the national attention his articles garnered. Quite a few of his missives were pretty poorly researched, thought out, and reported.

Here's some examples in what could be his last article. In today's issue of the Times, Nossiter has penned an unusually editorializing piece on Gov. Bobby Jindal's efforts to reject federal stimulus funds.

While I agree somewhat with the main premise in this article (Jindal is politicking, not governing), there's actually much to Nossiter's story that is partially wrong and downright omitted.

For instance, for the sake of word count or otherwise, Nossiter lumps all federal spending together, implying that it has had a mostly beneficent impact on New Orleans, helping the city to rebound since 2005.

Nothing could be further from the truth when analyzing political-economy. Who gets what, when, and why is not something we should reduce so bluntly. Not all federal dollars are created equal, nor are the spent equally. The benefits accrue to some and harm is done to others. Some, probably a fraction of federal aid, has helped to rebuild affordable housing, created decent jobs, reopened good schools, and built back other city services desperately needed. Many federal dollars, however, have either gone to projects that have had a dubious impact on our community's welfare, or else they haven't even been spent yet.

One of the biggest failures of the so-called "stimulus" of the past four years that Nossiter is so proud of has been the form it arrived in - tax credits. Tax credits are only good for building housing and other necessities when matched with private capital that is willing and able to invest. Since the national and local economy hasn't been too hot, there's been billions unspent, billions delayed. (And people wonder why N.O. has an affordable housing crisis?) Furthermore, tax credit subsidized projects are only as profitable as the developer can make them, usually by cramming in as many luxury and market-rate housing and amenities as possible. So for all these dollars allocated down here we really haven't seen anything like a "stimulus" of the low-income housing market - easily one of the most needed developments in N.O.

Should I even address the issue of wages? Nossiter throws out the unemployment rate (LA's is lower than the national average) but doesn't address wage parity issues and how much of one's wages is spent on housing and other necessities. More people in N.O. might have jobs than in Cleveland, for example, but that don't mean we can afford to live.

That's just one example of the problem with throwing out dollar figures and other economic statistics, and vaguely stating that they are improving the condition of this city. Just because federal dollars are landing here through FEMA and the LRA doesn't mean most Louisianans are better off for it. Just ask the city's still enormous homeless population or the tens of thousands of renters who barely scrape by with housing vouchers (landlord subsidies via "stimulus").

It'd be nice if Nossiter did a little more research and added some complexity to his reporting. But that's clearly not this point of this parting-shot article. The point seems to be to blast Jindal and lobby for the Obama administration's plans. That brings me to the biggest mistake in Nossiter's reporting.

Charity Hospital.

According to Nossiter:
"even as Mr. Jindal has criticized the stimulus bill, his own subordinates have continued to request money from Washington, notably in replacing Charity Hospital, which for generations served the poor in downtown New Orleans. State health officials, disregarding restoration work at Charity done in the months immediately after Hurricane Katrina, say they need a brand-new hospital and an additional $500 million; the Federal Emergency Management Agency has balked and is offering only $150 million."
In his haste to blast the Republican Gov. for playing politics, Nossiter has tacitly endorssed the single most disastrous real estate power-play in post-Katrina New Orleans, save perhaps the demolition of public housing. What's dangerous here is that Nossiter has linked the Charity issue now to the federal stimulus funds, a link that doesn't necessarily exist. State officials and LSU Health Science Center big shots have been wrangling with the feds for over a year to get more funds from FEMA to build their "Taj-Mahospital" in Mid-City.

By linking this to the federal stimulus Nossiter is actually aiding Jindal (and everyone from LSU to Mayor Nagin and his nemsis City Council who are all united behind this project). Those reading Nossiter's article from their desks in D.C. are now increasingly likely to see the replacement of Charity as an uncontroversial project that will benefit New Orleans "in spite of that conservative Gov. in Baton Rouge."

Getting rid of Charity is a major goal of Jindal's, however. Building the new LSU hospital with the several hundred million in FEMA money the state doesn't have and shouldn't get is just what Jindal wants, and it won't be good for the people of New Orleans. What would have been good was the immediate reopening of Charity after the storm, and what would still be better would be the cheaper, smarter and much faster retrofitting of Big Charity.

Reporting like Nossiter's is politically expedient for folks in D.C. with their agenda. It's also politically helpful for the NY Times which has its own bone to pick, one closely linked to the Obama administration's. It's not politically helpful in any way for the people of New Orleans. Time and again Nossiter's work has shown these tendencies. In this respect he and his employer are just as guilty of the political machinations he's accusing Jindal of.

How about reporting on the real story?

Jindal and other Republican governors are not just refusing to accept stimulus money in a game of politics or to score points with their base. Rather, they're genuinely concerned about the strings that come attached with some of these funds. Jindal and others have made it clear on several occasions that they do not want to re-write state laws concerning unemployment benefits, health programs, and other welfare and worker compensation laws.

Why? Because they're the party of the bosses. Doing so would re-write the social contract in small ways that empower working class Americans. The Obama administration is trying to use the federal stimulus as a wedge to force these changes on many states. It's a good political strategy, but one that's replete with dangers. They could end up doing a lot of harm in the process, especially if they flatten and simplify local political issues in the name of expediency.

How about reporting on this story in-depth? Oh, cause the New York Times and others couldn't score easy immediate political points of their own. It's too complex a story, and the "bad guys" are not just Republican leaders, they include much of corporate America and many powerful economic lobbies. Is that why?

Or are the press just too lazy?

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