Wednesday, September 07, 2011

If everybody's crooked, is wrong all right?

Garland Robinette, in most every way, has been the face -- or, more precisely, the voice -- of post-Katrina New Orleans.

And for being too representative in one important way, the WWL radio host -- who before that was a TV-news fixture in the Crescent City from the time I was in elementary school to well past when I married and moved away from Louisiana -- ought to be fired.

No matter who you are or how good you are at what you do, sometimes you do something for which there's no excuse -- or at least no good excuse. And for Robinette, who's been around the block more than once as a journalist, covering Louisiana scoundrels grand and petty, there's just no excuse for not knowing a massive conflict of interest when it presented itself.

Indeed, there's just no way a longtime radio and TV reporter and anchor could not have known what he was doing was, shall we say, both ethically challenged and fatally toxic to both his and his employer's credibility. There's just no way.

WHAT did he do? Here's what the Times-Picayune says he did:
WWL talk radio host Garland Robinette received $250,000 from the owner of the River Birch Landfill in October 2007, after Robinette routinely used his show to criticize the reopening of the rival Old Gentilly Landfill to dispose of Hurricane Katrina debris, his attorney confirmed. Federal authorities investigating River Birch flagged the monetary transfer and interviewed Robinette several times late last year, said Robinette's attorney Dane Ciolino, who said the money was a loan.

"They asked him a lot of questions, and he has cooperated fully," Ciolino said Friday. "He has been told that he is not a subject or target of the investigation."

Embattled River Birch owner Fred Heebe loaned Robinette the money through a company Heebe owns, Ciolino said.

"Fred Heebe is a personal friend of Garland's" he said, "and it was a personal loan."

Ciolino said the loan was to be repaid once Robinette and his wife sold a vacant lot they own in St. Tammany Parish. He said he believed Robinette, an avid painter, used the money to build an art studio.

Ciolino said he did not know whether Robinette has repaid the loan or whether he has been paying interest.

The disclosure involving one of New Orleans' most prominent media figures is the latest development in the 20-month investigation of River Birch, which allegedly paid $460,000 in bribes to a former state official to lobby for closing Old Gentilly.

The loan was made during the post-Katrina landfill wars as Heebe and his associates sought to shutter the Old Gentilly Landfill and the new Chef Menteur Landfill to increase River Birch's share of more than $175 million in disposal fees for at least 38 million cubic yards of hurricane debris.

From mid-2006 through mid-2007, Robinette frequently raised environmental concerns about disposing of debris at Old Gentilly and the new Chef Menteur Landfill in eastern New Orleans on his "Think Tank" talk show.

THIS WEEK, Robinette took to the WWL airwaves to defend himself:

"I can look my wife and my daughter in the eye and tell you the public I have done absolutely nothing wrong," Robinette said.

Entercom Corp., WWL's Pennsylvania-based owner, backed Robinette, saying

company officials "do not expect this matter to affect Garland's status with WWL."

From 2006 until at least May 2007, Robinette frequently raised environmental concerns on his show about disposing of hurricane debris at Old Gentilly, a former city dump in eastern New Orleans that reopened two months after Katrina.

The payment to Robinette, first reported Saturday in The Times-Picayune, came as Heebe and his associates were trying to shut down the Old Gentilly Landfill and the Chef Menteur Landfill -- both of which were opened in the wake of Hurricane Katrina to deal with the huge volume of trash.

Robinette said his coverage of the landfill issue was not influenced by the money from Heebe.

"My opinions are not and have not ever been for sale. I would never dishonor your trust nor my family's," he said.

HE CAN LOOK his wife and daughter in the eye and tell us he's "done nothing wrong"? No joke?

If Robinette believes that --
really believes that in his heart and mind -- he obviously operates within the context of a depraved worldview, likely formed by the corrosive forces of an depraved civic culture, one with a completely deviant view of such concepts as "right," "wrong" and "normal." (This also applies to Robinette's corporate boss, Entercom, which is blind -- as American corporations are wont to be -- to everything but the bottom line.)

Dat's Loosiana for you!

That's a place where "on the make" and "on the take" are such a part of "normal" civic life as to be unexceptional -- and unprosecuted if not for the U.S. Justice Department. There you have a society where businessmen are giving, officials are taking and -- now -- at least one prominent figure in the mass media is "borrowing."

While talking up his friend and creditor's shady interests by running down the "competition."

THIS is what passes for "absolutely nothing wrong" in the mind of a man who emerged as one of New Orleans' preeminent post-Katrina crusaders for what he'd have us believe was "truth, justice and the American Way." Now he's a man making himself into a different, yet much more familiar, face of "the Big Easy" -- the ethically pockmarked face of an American banana republic.

Answer me this: In the Gret Stet, what institution can the public really trust?

That Garland Robinette now has added to the long, deafening silence that accompanies that question is reason enough to "kill his mic" . . . and his long broadcasting career with it.


Dez Crawford said...

Americans are supposed to be shocked over shady loans or even outright bribes? C'mon. Michael Vick returned to superstardom and super-wealth after being convicted of felony dogfighting. Why? Because he makes his handlers buckets of money. If most people took a whiz test and a trace amount of THC was found in their urine from a joint they smoked on vacation last month, they'd be out of work on the spot. But celebrity felons get a new and BETTER job when they serve their time. Compared to dogfighting, and electrocuting, hanging, or bludgeoning losing dogs to death, taking a shady loan -- no matter how illegal --seems pretty lame. Does anyone REALLY expect Garland to be fired? This whole country embraces its money-generating people now matter how toxic they are. It's not just Louisiana.

The Mighty Favog said...

No, it's not just Louisiana. But Louisiana was the trailblazer and remains a professional in the field among a nation of amateurs.

There, Garland is unexceptional in his sellout. If the feds hadn't come calling and the Picayune made a stink, who'd have noticed . . . or been offended?

Here's the difference between where I was born and where I now live: Crooked politicians and stuff like this are very close to being the norm in Louisiana. It's barely noticed unless someone is high-profile enough, and then only unevenly punished. In Nebraska, it's the exception, and a big stink gets raised over even minor grafters, then the justice system lowers the boom.

You eventually become what you tolerate, and that has severe, long-lasting consequences.