Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Blackout

Now that we're in the brave new world where a majority of Americans think the president is dishonest and incompetent, I'm left wondering how things might have turned out differently if Americans had realized these things a couple years ago.

To be sure, there are some major events like the invasion of Iraq (a.k.a. Operation Awesome Kickass™) that probably never would've gained traction if people hadn't assumed their leaders were telling it to them straight. And the tax cuts might have gone differently, but I think the American people's willingness to be bribed -- "I get a check for $300! That's all I needs to hear!" -- would've pushed that through no matter how obvious it was that Bush was selling snake-oil.

But I'm thinking more and more about an event that's completely disappeared down the memory hole -- the 2003 blackout.

Anyone else remember that? The largest blackout in North American history? It affected a quarter of the country, sending over 50 million Americans and some 10 million Canadians into darkness, and cost businesses about $6 billion dollars in losses. Remember now?

Obviously, a key factor in our nation's collective blackout about the blackout was the timing of it all. Because it happened almost exactly at the peak of public support for the war in Iraq, the media was wrapped up in its embedded love affair with the administration. When reporters gazed lovingly in the administration's sweet, sultry eyes, they could see no wrong.

To be sure, there were plenty of question marks that the media just let go. Republicans initially blamed Canada, but it turned out to be a problem in Ohio. And when the structural problems behind the blackout first became known, there was little outrage at the federal regulators responsible for keeping an eye on things. We should've seen an investigation into FERC along the lines of what we're seeing with FEMA these days, but the agency got a free pass.

And in a larger sense, when you have an administration that's in bed with energy companies, especially the one that actually caused rolling blackouts in California, doesn't it make sense to probe a little? Maybe see if the complete collapse of a quarter of this nation's electrical grid was in any way the result of this administration letting its energy buddies police themselves?

None of these issues were really asked in a serious and persistent way. Once the power was restored, the media and the public pretty much let the matter drop. I can't imagine that the outcome would've been the same if the blackout had come later, especially if it had come in the wake of Katrina. The media would've pressed to know why it happened, why they shifted the blame, and, most important, what this revealed about the Bush-Cheney connections to the Enron crowd. They would've, you know, done their job.

10 comments:

Thrillhous said...

Another great post, OM. Timing really is everything. Look at how much is being made of Cheney shooting that guy. Would the media have given it the same coverage in 2003? Possible, but highly doubtful.

Otto Man said...

You're right, they commit to a narrative and don't deviate for years. If Cheney had shot this guy two weeks after 9/11, the media would've touted it as a sign of just how badass the administration was. "That's right, he shot a friend. Take that as a warning, Osama!"

I think Jon Stewart had it right -- the media is like a group of six-year-olds playing soccer. The balls pops up somewhere, and they all go running to it. It pops up somewhere else, and they all go there.

The theme used to be Bush can do no wrong, and now it's Bush can do no right. I tend to agree with the latter, but I'm glad I'm not alone now.

InanimateCarbonRod said...

I suppose it's a fine post, but the title had me all psyched up to read about the Scorpions.

Otto Man said...

I suppose it's a fine post, but the title had me all psyched up to read about the Scorpions.

When Thrillhous posts with that title, you'll finally be satisfied.

S.W. Anderson said...

I think you're right about the timing and how much follow-up coverage the blackout didn't get.

Unfortunately, where responsibility tracks back to no-name businessmen and lower-level bureaucrats, with a lot of mundane details required to begin to explain things, the media get gun shy. They know if their eyes start to glaze over, the public will have even less interest.

Reporters and others also know their on-air report of that kind won't get much play, and their print story will be at the bottom of page 8 on Saturday. So, they move right along to something like Michael Jackson being late for court or the latest murdered or missing attractive twentysomething.

Now, if the blackout had been caused because a self-styled playboy power utility executive was found to have embezzled millions that were supposed to replace aging equipment, and if he had a brassy blonde bombshell not his wife in tow to talk to the local D.A., that would be a whole 'nother thing.

That doesn't say a lot for the media or the public, but that's how it is.

Mrs_Thrillhous said...

What's this about the Scorpions? Power outages don't have anything to do with winds of change.

My brother was in Cleveland on business when that happened. He didn't need anything making that trip any worse! I was on vacation at the time, so I talked to him and went back to having fun. It was out of the news by the time I got home.

With an affected population of 10 million, wasn't all of Canada in the dark?

sideshow bob said...

Blame Canada, we have to raise a great big fuss, before somebody thinks of blaming us!

I think Bush watches to much South Park...

Hmmm...backouts and hurricanes? Maybe we should blame the Scorps.

Otto Man said...

Now, if the blackout had been caused because a self-styled playboy power utility executive was found to have embezzled millions that were supposed to replace aging equipment, and if he had a brassy blonde bombshell not his wife in tow to talk to the local D.A., that would be a whole 'nother thing.

Hey, how'd you get my screenplay? I'm shopping that to Fox.

sideshow bob said...

Sounds a little high-brow for Fox...

Otto Man said...

Sounds a little high-brow for Fox...

No, no. The playboy is going to be David Faustino, and the blonde bombshell is Pamela Anderson.