In the wake of the Maui fire tragedy, incompetence has been evident, but much is being squelched in the form of media blackouts from the island
To get a real sense of the way today’s press corps works tirelessly to prop up the public image of Joe Biden, we only have to see the manner in which the tragedy in Hawaii is being treated. There is a twofold issue, and both sides require complicit behavior from the press. On the one hand, you have President Biden’s detached involvement and on the other, the local actions – or inaction – that contributed to the problems.
Biden has been pathetically disengaged from this tragedy, as he has given repeated “no comment” responses to earlier questions as well as his taking repeated vacation stops as this is playing out. Then there is the matter of his visit to the island on Monday and how that extended his PR problems. As for the local authorities, you have matters like a warning system that was never engaged, questions on the early containment of the fire, and a water management official who apparently was lax in providing water diversion commands to aid in battling the blaze.
Then there is the matter of a lack of responsiveness to relief requests. From the White House transcript, National Guard Lt. Col. Devin Robinson ran the press conference to cover relief efforts and, in one exchange, revealed a problem.
LT. COL. ROBINSON: Thank you, sir. So, next we are going to go to Ben Kesling from Wall Street Journal.
Q: Thank you. There’s been some concern with locals about a perceived slowness of the federal government’s response to all this. I know that this has been addressed multiple times but, General, I wonder if you can talk to that. And sort of a follow-on question to that is I know that the Marines down there, especially the Marines with the 3rd Littoral Regiment, have been on standby for days now and nobody’s availed them of those resources.
His answer is staggering.
But let’s make that clear that everything that we’re offering is at the request of the county and it’s for the phase of the operation that we’re in. I’m not sure what capabilities that Marine unit that you mentioned has or what they can bring, but right now the focus of our operation is to secure the impact zone.
Residents on Maui are being told that even boiling water at this point is not safe. Why not employ those Marines to bring potable water transports over to the island?! Amazing.
All of this would be expected to generate media outrage on par with what we saw when George Bush was scorched for the handling of the Hurricane Katrina aftermath, but we are not seeing much in the way of critical coverage in the media — that is, when we see coverage at all. Yes, the networks have covered the tragedy, but there is a noticeable difference in the overall reporting. We are not seeing nearly as many on-the-ground details emerging as we might expect.
This appears to be by design. A week ago, Will Cain from Fox News explained that he had been prevented at times from reporting on conditions and was actually blocked from accessing many areas of the island. He did manage to get some remote reporting, however, due to the fact that he is a resident and this granted him the ability to access certain areas he otherwise would have been barred from entering.
We believe we are the only national media in West Maui. I haven’t see any other crews. And they tried to censor us and shut us down. “West Maui is a media free zone.” We only got through the checkpoints because I’m a property owner in West Maui. They have this place on info…
— Will Cain (@willcain) August 15, 2023
In the following days, things have only improved marginally as far as information getting out. A local reporter, Ashley Probst, from The Maui Times, expressed her frustration at the inability to not only report on conditions and detail what is taking place but having been met with obstinate actions from local authorities who have not been open about recovery efforts and have worked to stymie her attempts at getting information out to the public.
Meanwhile, the local authorities are facing criticism over this lack of transparency in the emergency, and they, in turn, are becoming combative with the press over the lack of clear communication and the inability of journalists to do work on the ground. Look at the contentious stance of Governor Josh Green as he faces questions from the press while at the same time being critical of these same journalists.
💥Governor of Hawaii Speaks Out
The people of Lahaina have lost everything including family members to flames for some. Per the AP, 1K+ are still missing.
The media has received RADIO SILENCE from the gov’t. (Editor Maui Times ⬇️).
Now watch the Governor’s response… ⬇️⬇️ https://t.co/8zgjpUxoAH pic.twitter.com/kr1KsiULC1
— Louisa Clary (@louisaclary) August 19, 2023
What Governor Green is detailing here is an unfavorable condition of his own making and the making of other area officials. He is openly critical – downright hostile, in fact – towards the concept of social media delivering information in this tragedy, but when they are not forthcoming with information as well as curtailing the media in their ability to work on the ground, then what he complains about is an inevitable result. If there is a blockade on media efforts, then social media and citizen journalists will be the ones to fill that information void.
While there are these concerns with authorities tamping down information on the ground, and mostly locally, the national press appears to be willing to deliver mostly fed dispatches. There is a notable lack of heavy criticism of the president and his dismissive actions on this matter. No criticisms of his time off, as he heads from Hawaii to take time off in Lake Tahoe – immediately after he had a beach weekend, which came days after he returned from a lengthy vacation.
So Biden is not looked at critically, the local officials are dithering, and it appears some of their energy is spent controlling the narrative as opposed to orchestrating the best possible relief efforts. Reining in the press is only feeding the questions and critiques in the general public, as speculation only swells. Will Cain alluded to this very reality a week ago, and the condition of things in regard to press access does not appear to have improved significantly.
To be clear, there have been MANY amazing citizen journalists and local news like @MauiNOW is great. But when you attempt to control information you sow the seed of conspiracy theory. You know a resource that’s missing in Maui: information.
— Will Cain (@willcain) August 15, 2023