Opinions like this usually don’t come in the middle of a national panic. They’re reserved for the post-mortem – the weeks, months, maybe years after tragedy or turmoil strike. I’m sorry, but this can’t wait.
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve watched two leaders of our community graciously stand in front of podiums with cameras and microphones shoved in their faces. They’ve answered question after question, perfectly blending empathy with strength. They’ve been conscious of the local discourse while unwavering in their commitment to the greater good.
No matter how you’ve voted in the past, and no matter how much you may agree or disagree with their positions on matters of policy, every honest soul in Houston and Harris County should be boastfully proud of County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Mayor Sylvester Turner.
I’ve never met Hidalgo, and my interactions with Turner have been limited, but while most media remain locked on the next breaking story that might edge up website traffic, I want to pause and waive the banner for our two leaders.
Earlier this week, when Hidalgo and Turner made the decision to issue a work/stay-at-home notice, you could see in their eyes and hear in their voices that they didn’t want to shut down businesses that may never reopen. And despite what some of the tinfoil-hat crowd may think, neither leader pushed the idea until the medical community, and the data, suggested the only way to save lives was to greatly limit the amount of exposure we have with each other for the next 10 days.
If you watched just a moment of that press conference, the emotion on the faces of Hidalgo and Turner was real. Their pain was raw, resilient.
Once their prepared remarks concluded, as they always do, the Judge and Mayor opened the floor to the salivating press. And wouldn’t you know it, the first question was an arrow shot directly at Turner.
Mayor, the reporter asked, “On Friday you said the city isn’t shutting down. Does [this order] blindside Houstonians you reassured?”
If you ever wondered why so many people have a disdain for media, consider this Exhibit A. This is what we’re asking at a time when the news cycle changes every 30 minutes? This is what a reporter thinks is most important to Houstonians at a time when businesses are closing, layoffs are rampant and, just for kicks, the price of oil has cratered?
“Hey mayor, why did you change your mind?”
Are you kidding? We have a virus we’ve never seen. We have a national reaction that’s unprecedented. We have social media spewing all sorts of treachery. Meanwhile, we have hospitals and doctors begging for masks, scientists working on no sleep, and corporations changing their entire manufacturing processes. And the best question we’ve got to ask is if Mayor Turner is embarrassed because he said one thing on Friday and agreed with another decision on Tuesday?
Five days these days is like five years any other time. Results change by the moment. Data sets are updated by the hour. Testing kits are delivered as rapidly as possible. And test results come as soon as the labs can process them. And our question is whether Mayor Turner blindsided the public?
No, Mr. Reporter. The mayor did not blindside the public. In fact, Turner and Hidalgo have been the last people on the list I would consider to have blindsided the public. To the contrary, they’ve given us every piece of information they responsibly could, and the rigor in which they’ve managed this crisis has risen above any sort of partisan policy imaginable.
Look, I’m a member of the press. I’ve worked in media for more than two decades, and I’ve stood in front of public figures hoping to ask the most germane question ever posed by a reporter in the history of all reporting. If you don’t think there’s some narcissism in media, you probably don’t believe this virus is real, either.
What sickens me about this entire malady, and what sickens me about the impact this virus has had on our country, our economy and the employees who have lost jobs in the past week is the game of “Gotcha” being played in media.
There are too many stories trying to cast blame one way or the other. There are too many questions like the one Turner fielded (gracefully, I might add), where reporters are more interested in walking out high-fiving colleagues because he or she embarrassed the person standing at the dais.
It’s happening at the local level. It’s happening at the state level. And it’s happening every day in national media outlets, where the constant onslaught of piercing questions is designed to feed a perceived lust the public has for political blood.
I’m normally proud of the role media play in our democracy. We’re needed to celebrate the good and expose the bad. And while I’d never suggest we stop holding elected officials responsible for inaccuracies in their statements, the public would be better served if our only mission was to help steer a nation out of crisis.
Judge Hidalgo and Mayor Turner have done so pristinely; beacons when we needed them most. They should be celebrated for their mettle and applauded for their doggedness.
Any attempt to nit and pick and pry at their motivations don’t deserve another second of media play. And that’s not just in Houston. That’s everywhere.