The PBS show about the Sun-Sentinel's award-winning FEMA investigation wasn't exactly great TV, but it wasn't bad either. Doesn't matter much, since nobody saw it (c'mon, 11 a.m. on Labor Day Weekend Sunday?). But there were a few revelations in the documentary:
-- John Maines started the investigation simply by going on the FEMA website and noticing that federal money was going to Miami-Dade for Hurricane Frances relief even though the storm barely touched there. Nice to see credit going where credit is due.
-- The original story itself was very good but not great: Some federal fraud committed mostly by poor blacks in Miami-Dade who needed the help anyway. Throw in some dogged reporting by Sally Kestin and Megan O'Matz (Burstein got to the table late in the game and wasn't mentioned in the PBS show) and you've got a nice package. But the Sentinel had one man and one natural disaster that helped to ultimately give the project major success. The man was Michael Brown, the incredibly incompetent boob who was running FEMA at the time. Rather than saying, "Heckuva job, Sun-Sentinel, you've uncovered a real
problem here that we're going to review and fix," Brown arrogantly and idiotically pretended there was nothing wrong. Instead of the Sentinel patting itself on the back, Brown only egged on Kestin and O'Matz, who are both dogged and determined.
The natural disaster, of course, was Katrina, which brought Brown and FEMA's incompetence into the nation's households at precisely the time it was publishing its rather amorphous investigation of FEMA disaster relief fraud being committed around the country. The reporters talk of how they were a bit petrified that FEMA would become a national darling after saving New Orleans. That would have relegated the fraud series to the ashheap of history. But the opposite happened and FEMA's horrible response to Katrina only proved that the Sentinel was right about Brown and the agency. If not for that, you can bet the Pulitzer board never would have taken notice and made it a finalist. Not to take anything away from the reporters, though -- most Pulitzer notices have an element of luck to them and the fact is that the Sentinel investigative team showed great instincts and deserved every accolade it received.
-- Sentinel Investigative Editor Joe Demma seems to have a good time. He came across as the wise and slightly wizened Hawaian-shirted guru behind the scenes. You had to like him and you were pretty certain by the end of the show that he's the best editor the corporate-gone-mad Sentinel has got. At the end, he said that he's not sure if great investigative reporting is as good as sex, but he's certain it's better than "booze and drugs" -- a loose reference to his storied battle with cocaine addiction (Note to Pacenti: Demma proves you can get back in the game as strong as ever).
Great investigative reporting, by the way, is actually better than sex. It's just another kind of fucking, after all -- and it lasts longer.