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New orleans - Direct action on housing - report by Elizabeth Cook

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  • les evenchick
    Report on Times Picayune Protest As a result of the protest, we were able to meet with three of the editors at the newspaper. There was also some sort of fire
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 4, 2008
      Report on Times Picayune Protest

      As a result of the protest, we were able to meet with
      three of the editors at the newspaper. There was also
      some sort of fire alarm that emptied out the entire
      building as we were finishing our meeting. It was
      evident from City Editor David Meeks's behavior that
      he appears to be one of the primary architects of the
      TP coverage of public housing. It was also very
      evident that more pressure is needed before Meeks, or
      anyone else working for the paper, will admit to
      mistakes and bias. Below is the story.

      About 10 activists, including two public housing
      residents and a former member of the homeless
      encampment at Canal and Claiborne, met in front of the
      Times Picayune Building Thursday, Feb. 27th, for a
      picket. Our goal was to protest the TP's lack of
      coverage of the HUD corruption, and the fact that the
      TP has served as a mouthpiece for HUD talking points,
      particularly in articles leading up to the December
      20th unanimous vote by the City Council to demolish
      public housing.

      In my view, challenging the corporate media in this
      city is long overdue, and we have a future date with
      Channel 4 News in particular. The Times Picayune
      however, sets the tone for all of the other corporate
      news media in the city, in our view.

      The tone set for public housing has been, as Darwin
      BondGraham's article points out so well, an acceptance
      of a particular ideology that puts forth the notion
      that blending the classes in so-called "mixed income
      developments", will somehow, adequately address the
      issue of poverty.

      This ideology is convenient, of course, for those who
      dabble in high stakes real estate, those private
      developers who have their hands in the public till,
      and base whole careers on using government monies to
      redevelop public housing and pay their over-priced

      Bork attended our protest, and as everyone knows, she
      is all about direct action.
      I was first to arrive with Otis who was a resident of
      the homeless encampment at Canal and Claiborne. He was
      moving into an apartment provided by Unity for the
      Homeless that day.

      I parked my truck alongside other cars on a grassy
      area in front of the building. Immediately, I noticed
      two security guards making their way over to me. They
      were polite, even overly polite, members of the
      private security for the Picayune. I had to move my
      truck to park alongside a fence across from the
      building. We also were informed that we could not be
      on the premises to hand out our literature.

      We were restricted, or at least they attempted to
      restrict us to a narrow patch of dirt and grass
      alongside that fence across the street. For the time
      being, We hung out on the street and waited for others
      to arrive.

      When Bork arrived, things began to heat up rapidly.
      She made a decision to go into the building. If you
      know Bork, you know that she walks with a cane, so it
      was quite a sight to see this woman simply brush past
      3 or 4 security men and head straight into the

      "I'm going to make an appointment for myself with the
      editors, and you can send your delegates in if you
      want to, " she called back to us.

      I wasn't quite sure what she was up to, but gamely, I
      followed her in, brushing past
      the security guards myself as I called out to them,
      "Is it okay, can I go in?" And not waiting for an
      answer. It's interesting how we all respond to stress,
      and here I was posing a question that I really had no
      intention of waiting for an answer for.

      Once inside, we were surrounded by at least four
      security guards, and one gentleman I thought to be
      part of security, but was actually the business
      manager for the Times Picayune. I never did learn his
      name. Apparently, this potential disruption of
      business warranted his personal attention.

      Bork was already negotiating with the woman at the
      front reception desk, who was very helpful and polite
      throughout the "event". Bork said she wanted to to
      make a personal appointment with the editors. "I'm not
      sure what you want to do," she said to me. "I'm here
      on personal business". Several times she attempted to
      distance herself from me. It took me a while to catch
      on, as I realized she was trying to get me to
      negotiate to get a third person into the building.

      During these negotiations at the front desk, I handed
      out a few of our flyers to employees as they walked
      by, a few of whom were trying to get a view of the
      protesters outside of the front door. As soon as I
      began handing out flyers, I was approached by the
      business manager and told I could not give out my
      literature on the premises.

      Then we were ordered by this same man to sit in seats
      against the wall while the editors decided what to do
      with us. A security guard stood in front of us as we
      sat. I told him, and anyone listening, that I found it
      rather ironic that in the institution that was suppose
      to preserve freedom of the press in our city, I was
      prevented from exercising freedom of my own press. I
      said to anyone listening that I Intended to write
      about this fact.

      Finally we were told that we were to be accompanied
      upstairs to a meeting with the editors. I said that I
      wanted to include a public housing resident also, Sam
      Jackson, who was outside the building. I was told by
      security that no one else would be allowed into the

      In a room we were introduced to Jim Amoss, the editor
      of the TP, David Meeks, the City Editor, and another
      fellow, unfortunately, whose name I don't recall. I
      immediately requested that Sam Jackson be allowed to
      attend the meeting, and Amoss was very accomodating,
      and informed security himself to allow Sam into the

      I handed all three gentlemen my flyer, which was an
      article by Darwin BondGraham, titled "How New Orleans'
      Largest Paper Played a Key Role in the Demolition of
      Public Housing".

      David Meeks took one look at the flyer and said, "I've
      already read this. This is bullshit."

      "You think its bullshit?" I said to Meeks. "How so?" I

      "All those numbers from Quigley? It's all bullshit.
      Our reporters drive around and fact check HANO
      statistics. They don't just repeat their statistics as
      talking points," he stated. Meeks went on to say that
      if we can provide "proof" that the numbers they have
      used are incorrect, he would issue a refutation. I
      said I would work on that.

      I wanted to say, but didn't, that I didn't believe for
      a second that their reporters "fact checked" HANO
      statistics on available public housing units. It's
      already been well documented, and this is from
      documents from the "other side", meaning documents
      from the attorneys representing HUD in the lawsuit to
      reopen public housing, that HUD lies about, and fudges
      the numbers. We're referring here to the numbers of
      available public housing units, and, the numbers of
      units that will actually be replaced by redevelopment.

      I remember attending a HANO board meeting last spring,
      when HANO was attempting to float the story that at
      least three hundred units of public housing were
      available, but there were no takers for the units. A
      HANO official sitting next to Donald Babers himself,
      contradicted their own propaganda, and refuted the
      notion that there were over three hundred units
      available. This occurred when I had gotten up to speak
      during the comment period, and called on any residents
      there that needed housing, to make themselves known,
      as there were apparently three hundred units

      Back to our TP meeting.

      Of the three men present in the meeting, David Meeks
      proved to be the most defensive, and at times, angry
      and somewhat rude, as he would often interrupt Sam,
      Bork and I as we attempted to speak.

      Bork began speaking about her personal situation. To
      sum it up, she lobbied hard for the TP to cover her
      angle of the story, as far as those who were not
      public housing residents prior to Katrina, yet qualify
      for housing assistance, but are being turned away,
      told by HANO that "no one new" will be helped. She
      pointed out that there are many disabled folks living
      at Canal and Claiborne, under the overpass.

      Bork also brought up the issue of public housing
      residents being told to return to New Orleans to
      reclaim their units, only told, once they arrive, that
      their units are not ready.

      The three editors claimed complete ignorance of the
      this issue, but expressed interest in covering it, if
      we could supply them with names.

      Sam soon joined us, and spoke about apartments that
      have been renovated at B.W. Cooper, but remain boarded
      up, and have been boarded up well over a year. Sam
      moved back into B.W. Cooper over a year ago.

      Sam said she met the woman who returned, only to be
      turned away by HANO, and said he would get her name
      for the editors.

      I remember this issue coming up quite often as the
      Iberville Development was re-populating. Residents
      would return after receiving letters stating their
      units were ready, only to be told here that the units,
      in fact, were not ready. Some people gave up
      apartments in Houston and elsewhere, and rented
      u-hauls to return, and so found themselves homeless
      once back.

      In my view, HANO drags its feet when it comes to
      honoring its contract with public housing residents.
      It's a way to discourage people from returning,
      and/or, dropping out of the system.

      I brought up the biased coverage that the TP has
      provided for the public housing issue. I said the TP
      appears to have an agenda, and that agenda is the
      demolition of public housing. I said the repetition of
      HUD talking points by the TP was proof that they had
      no intention of covering the story with any degree of

      All three immediately chimed in and stated that they
      did not have an agenda concerning public housing. "Our
      reporters checked all the facts," Meeks said. "Most
      people in the city were for the demolition of public
      housing," he stated, as though this somehow justified
      their coverage.

      I brought up the issue of a lack of coverage of the
      criminal investigation of Alphonso Jackson as proof of
      their bias. I pointed out that there had been just one
      article by a reporter on the HUD corruption, back in
      October of 2007. The fellow whose name I didn't catch
      made the excuse that nothing much has happened,
      therefore, the issue didn't warrant coverage.

      Amoss pointed out that Lolis Elie had written several
      columns on the subject. I countered that Elie is not
      an investigative reporter. "You mean to me", I said,
      "that Alphonso Jackson's business relationship with
      Columbia, the developer for St. Bernard, does not
      warrant any more coverage by your reporters?"

      They all simply looked at me, and seemed not to know
      what to say at that point. They were trying to end the
      meeting as quickly as possible, saying they "had a
      deadline to meet".

      I suggested we continue these "talks" at a later date.
      Meeks was resistant to this. He stated that he didn't
      have anything to discuss as far as bias, but if we
      have names of people who returned to units and were
      turned away, he said he would look at that.

      They were rushing out of the room to get to a meeting,
      they said. Sam clapped Meeks' back loudly, and said,
      "You and I should talk again." Sam and I then loitered
      by the free coffee and sodas for a moment, holding
      them up a bit from their "deadline" meeting. That is
      about the time the alarm went off, and a monotone,
      automatic voice began repetitiously calling for
      everyone to leave the building, and an alarm began to
      sound as well.

      elizabeth cook

      Les Evenchick
      New Orleans
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