I’m still thinking today about that public hearing I went to Wednesday where federal environmental officials were supposedly listening to the public’s concerns about pollution. I know it’s impolite to point out something this obvious, but they weren’t there to listen to citizens. They were there to perform for TV cameras.
I heard the emotional appeal about children several times during the meeting. (Remember that I’ve produced plenty of manipulative political material over the years, so I’m very sensitive to the pious invocation of kids’ needs.) Ignacia Moreno, the assistant attorney general who was headlining Wednesday’s show, spoke of having to be away from her children traveling around the country. A man in the audience talked about his two daughters’ health problems. There were others, too.
Here’s the question, though. Why did they bother to put on this public show? Was anything said that anybody didn’t already know? I knew walking in what the various players on the federal side were going to say. The state and federal officials knew, too. The truth is that we weren’t there for the content of what was being said. It was all about putting on a show for the television cameras.
At least three of the four local TV stations with newscasts were there. (The newspaper was, too, but they wouldn’t have staged a show just for a newspaper.) In the picture above, you see the chief of the local FBI office making his perfunctory remarks as the cameraman for CBS 42 looks on. The whole thing was a PR show.
If the purpose is to find a way to protect our shared environment while also protecting the rights of private businesses to operate, you can do that without putting on a show and bringing in people to trot out pictures of dead daughters and others to allege racism. You put on a PR show when you want to ratchet up public pressure for something you already want to do.
The federal officials involved in Wednesday’s meetings already knew what they believed. They people who spoke already knew what they believed. Nobody was there to gather information. If you simply want to sell the public on what you plan to do anyway, that’s at least honest. But don’t pretend to be holding a “public hearing” when all you really want is an emotional show of force for the TV cameras.