Second-guessing, criticism puts grieving families last

You may notice the daily media briefings on the Oso mudslide getting shorter and tenser with less said and more questions asked.

As unanswered questions pile up, some of those chronicling the disaster are losing patience. So are some of those entrusted with trying to sort things out.

One flashpoint has been a push to get names of those killed or missing released to the public, though not everyone in the public may want it out.

Another source of stress has been stories giving voice to second-guessers of the response even while grief-stricken families await word of their loved ones.

Such tension is no surprise; it just seems to be occurring sooner than one might expect.

Generally coverage of disasters tends to follow a pattern. At first, the focus is on telling what happened and describing the emergency response. Next come tales of heroism, profiles of survivors and portraits of victims. Eventually, reporting will fix on how well government forces reacted and the causes of this horrific event.

Criticism tends to emerge in the later phases. The magnitude of this tragedy, with the search for victims expected to take weeks, has disrupted everything.

It is not crystal clear-when it is OK to dial back on chronicling the response and to begin unraveling whether there are parties at fault.

Nor is there a bright line between seeking details of the lives of those who’ve died and what constitutes invading the personal space of their survivors.

As a result, in the course of this week, those spearheading the rescue efforts in the field and the operations centers found themselves discussing matters probably few Arlington and Darrington residents felt needed addressing with so many people left to be found.

Old scientific studies spurred questions about what Snohomish County leaders knew of the potential hazards of river flooding and hillside failure, and when they knew it.

Frustrated residents and politicians had John Pennington, head of the Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management, on his heels explaining why the county didn’t request assistance sooner from the Washington National Guard.

Common sense says such lines of inquiry can be investigated fully later. But common sense can disappear quickly in a pressure-cooker of international attention.

Early in the week I started asking questions on these subjects but felt reticent to publish the answers because it felt too soon.

Rep. Elizabeth Scott, R-Monroe, didn’t feel so inhibited and decided to trash-talk the performance of government forces coordinating the response. I couldn’t ignore her and it’ll be up to her constituents to decide this fall if her performance this week merits another term.

And when Major Gen. Bret Daugherty, the commander of the Washington National Guard, called it a “terrible mistake” to second-guess Pennington’s decision, the observation was worth sharing for exploration later.

Things came to a head at Friday morning’s media briefing, which ended with a rebuke of some media members pressing for additional details about the names and number of the dead and missing.

Families have been advised of the process and getting out the information, Everett police Lt. Robert Goetz said.

“They understand it, so I hope you do,” he told reporters.

Families are still the story of the Oso mudslide — and the other questions can wait.

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com. Contact him at 360-352-8623 or jcornfield@heraldnet.com

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

A big decision for Boeing’s next CEO: Is it time for a new plane?

As Boeing faces increased competition from Airbus, the company is expected to appoint a new CEO by the end of the year.

A Mukilteo Speedway sign hangs at an intersection along the road in Mukilteo. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Mukilteo Speedway name change is off to a bumpy start

The city’s initial crack at renaming the main drag got over 1,500 responses. Most want to keep the name.

Two workers walk past a train following a press event at the Lynnwood City Center Link Station on Friday, June 7, 2024, in Lynnwood, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Trains up and running on Lynnwood Link — but no passengers quite yet

Officials held an event at the Lynnwood station announcing the start of “pre-revenue” service. Passengers still have to wait till August.

Nedra Vranish, left, and Karen Thordarson, right browse colorful glass flowers at Fuse4U during Sorticulture on Friday, June 7, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
A promenade through Everett’s popular Sorticulture garden festival

Check out a gallery of the festival’s first day.

Left to right, Everett Pride board members Ashley Turner, Bryce Laake, and Kevin Daniels pose for a photo at South Fork Bakery in Everett, Washington on Sunday, May 26, 2024. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Second Everett Pride aims for even bigger rainbow of festivities

Organizers estimated about 3,000 people attended the first block party in Everett. This year, they’re aiming for 10,000.

HRT Rescue Technician Andy Toyota gives the thumbs-up to crew members in the Snohomish County Volunteer Search and Rescue helicopter shortly before takeoff during an interagency training session held by Northwest Regional Aviation on Thursday, June 13, 2024, at the Arlington Airport in Arlington, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
From around state, authorities simulate ‘terrorist attack’ in Arlington

Teams from King County, Snohomish County and elsewhere converged for a multi-faceted scenario Thursday at the Arlington Municipal Airport.

Two couples walk along Hewitt Avenue around lunchtime on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2022 in Lynnwood, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Everett businesses say it’s time the city had its own Chamber of Commerce

The state’s seventh-largest city hasn’t had a chamber since 2011. After 13 years, businesses are rallying for its return.

The I-5, Highway 529 and the BNSF railroad bridges cross over Union Slough as the main roadways for north and southbound traffic between Everett and Marysville. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Highway 529 squeeze starts now between Everett, Marysville

Following a full closure for a night, starting late Sunday, Highway 529 will slim down to two lanes for months near the Snohomish River Bridge.

Marysville
5 Snohomish County sisters accused of $1M fraud scheme

For two years, the women used online return postage to get gift cards, then returning the physical items to a brick-and-mortar store, charges say.

FILE — Michael Whitaker, Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, testifies before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Feb. 6, 2024. Whitaker told a Senate panel, on Thursday, June 13, 2024, that changes are being made to the agency’s oversight of Boeing, including conducting more safety inspections. (Anna Rose Layden/The New York Times)
Boeing discloses new quality problem on 787 Dreamliner jets

The issue affects jets built in South Carolina that have yet to be delivered, the company said in a statement.

Alvin Cooper (Photo provided by Marysville School District)
After allegations, Marysville schools’ HR director resigns

Last week, the district’s finance director Lisa Gonzales publicly called for the school board to put Alvin Cooper on leave, citing mismanagement.

Leslie Davis, left, and Lyndsay Lamb, twin sister stars of HGTV's "Unsellable Houses" and 2004 Snohomish High School graduates, donated a private design session to the school's auction fundraiser for their 20-year reunion. (Photo provided)
Got $2,000? Bid on face time with HGTV’s ‘Unsellable Houses’ twins

The sisters are offering up themselves in a fundraiser for their Class of 2004 Snohomish High 20-year reunion.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.