Gonzales city council and post-WWII Japanese cinema; or, why you can’t believe what you see on TV


wade

What is the “Rashomon effect” and how does it relate to the City of Gonzales? I’m glad you asked. The term was coined in the 1970s and describes a literary device in which different characters describe past events from various perspectives; and who recount different versions of the same event. As I watched competing coverage of Gonzales’ latest city council meeting on the three Baton Rouge TV news channels, I was reminded of the 1950 Japanese cinematic classic, “Rashomon.”

In “Rashomon” director, Akira Kurosawa, tells the story of the murder/rape of a samurai and his wife. Four witnesses testify at the subsequent trial of the alleged murderer/rapist and they tell wildly different stories. There is an English-language remake of Kurosawa’s masterpiece entitled “The Outrage” for those who abhor subtitles. Baton Rouge-based media outlets employed the “Rashomon effect” in their coverage of Gonzales’ latest city council meeting.  It probably wasn’t coordinated.

Channels 33 (WVLA), 9 (WAFB) and 2 (WBRZ) all brought their cameras to Gonzales City Hall on Monday, July 14, and they all conducted post-meeting interviews of Gonzales’ elected officials. But they told very different stories, none of which was all that accurate.

I didn’t get around to watching the broadcasts which I had recorded until Wednesday morning. Here’s what I saw.

Channel 33’s news anchor said the following in a piece that lasted 61 seconds:

“Gonzales is broke and tonight one council member proposed an amendment to cut the general budget down to just $50,000. It used to be $100,000.”

Huh?

Should I, and my fellow citizens, be alarmed. This was the first I’d heard about my beloved city’s dire financial straits. It seemed that things were going so well, too. We just got a movie theater and a bowling alley, two things our citizens have wanted for as long as I can remember. What could have happened?

It was 5:30 am when I watched the Channel 33 version but I couldn’t wait. I called Mayor Barney Arceneaux because I wanted answers. Drat…straight to voicemail. Panic-stricken, I decided to pull out my copy of the most recently proposed General Fund budget.

Phhew! What a relief. It would seem that Gonzales enjoys a level of economic prosperity that it has never before experienced. I would hazard a guess that 99% of Louisiana’s municipalities aspire to be “broke” like the City of Gonzales.

And Gonzales enjoyed a $30 million fund balance only six short years ago. I know, the fund balance had decreased to around $12 million last year but $25 million in capital improvements were made without borrowing a single dime.  Name another Louisiana municipality that can say the same.

As for the “general budget,” it was not amended down to $50,000 from a $100,000 starting point. Mayor Arceneaux’s originally proposed General Fund budget totaled $15,668,400. Three council members did amend funding within the budget for Ascension Economic Development Corp (AEDC) down to $25,000 in April. Arceneaux vetoed that amended budget in May.

He presented a new General Fund budget on June 23 which included $75,000 for AEDC. The same three Councilmen (Gary Lacombe, Timothy Vessel and Terance Irvin) reduced the allocation to $50,000.

“With this latest push a lot of city employees are angry because it means that many of them will not get raises,” Channel 33 reported.

True, employees are paid out of the General Fund and expected raises will not be forthcoming until the budget is adopted.

But, “Our employees understand that they’ll receive those raises” when the budget is passed, Mayor Arceneaux assured. And the raises will be retroactive to June 1 when the current fiscal year commenced. For the record, Barney Arceneaux also informed that Gonzales is not broke.

The Channel 33 anchor went on to add:

“One Councilman wants $30,000 of the proposed budget to go directly to the police and fire departments. But others, including the police chief and the mayor, just don’t think that’s enough.”

I’m baffled as to what the assertion even refers to. I wouldn’t know where to look to verify or refute the statement.

What a relief. I was curious, though. How had the other Capital City news outlets treated events in the Jambalaya Capital of the World?

Channel 9 devoted 40 seconds of its half-hour broadcast to the council meeting.

“Council members can’t decide how much they want to give Ascension Economic Development Corporation…The budget, already a month and a half overdue,” the news anchor declared. “Gonzales city leaders might try to pass a budget again at the next meeting in two weeks.”

Okay. Fair enough, but…No mention, at all, was made about the more controversial issue?  They cut $110,000 from Chief Sherman Jackson’s police department funding in the Capital Outlay budget. Oh well, at least there were no outlandish inaccuracies.

Channel 9 made up in brevity what it lacked in thoroughness. Why even bother?

Channel 2 has devoted more time and effort to coverage of our city’s political scene. What did it have to report in its 2:11 segment?

Channel 2 featured an actual reporter who provided:

“Lawmakers were going back and forth over the budget in Gonzales. Tonight, a step forward, but it comes at the expense of the police department.”

The sticking point, Channel 2 reported, is an $800,000 road study that was added to the budget in April and subsequently vetoed by the mayor.

“There is no study now” and it was “not part of the discussion tonight.”

“The police and economic development funds were both amended and the council continues to disagree…Two amendments were passed by the same 3-2 vote that creates a divide among city leaders,” the reporter concluded, identifying Lacombe, Vessel and Irvin as the majority faction pitted against Councilmen Kenny Matassa and Kirk Boudreaux.

Channel 2 got it right but went on to air its post-meeting interview with Gary Lacombe about his pet project, the $800,000 I-10 service road.

“We’ve got some work to do with the mayor and he’s signaled to us that he’s wanting to do that. So we’re going to work with him,” Lacombe said.

So, Channel 2 concluded that:

“The road study isn’t off the table entirely. And Mayor Barney Arceneaux; still not sure what he’ll do.”

More accurately, Mayor Barney Arceneaux isn’t sure what you’re talking about.

The revelation that the mayor is negotiating with Lacombe, Vessel and/or Irvin over the service road came as a shock to me. So I contacted him and, as it turns out, it surprised the mayor, too.

“I’m not sure what in the heck that means,” Arceneaux said of Gary Lacombe’s comments. “That’s probably a ‘stand by and wait’ comment.”

Meaning, what do Gary Lacombe, Timothy Vessel and Terance Irvin have in store for the next council meeting? Will they amend the budgets which are scheduled for final vote? They’ve already done so on two occasions.

What about Baton Rouge’s print media? The Advocate ran its story under the headline:

“Gonzales road study dead, but amendments may keep budget controversy alive.”

The accurate conclusion lies somewhere in between what was reported by Channel 2 and The Advocate.  They might have gotten it right if the Manship family still owned the newspaper.

Now, lest I be accused of unfair criticism, I empathize with any reporter attempting to get a straight answer from Gary Lacombe, Terance Irvin or Timothy Vessel. As for Councilman Vessel, if you can get any answer at all you’ve really accomplished something.

But the budget battle in Gonzales has been going on for four months now. It began when Lacombe, Irvin and Vessel failed to attend the March 20 working meeting to discuss the mayor’s newly crafted budget scheduled for introduction on April 14.

Four months would seem ample time to get the facts straight, at least some of them. On those rare occasions when the Baton Rouge stations deem Gonzales worthy of media attention, is that too much to expect?


Comments

  1. Dr. LCH says:

    I have to be honest…while I think the IDEA for this piece is really interesting, I feel like the execution was somewhat lacking.

    Frankly, you seem confused or undecided about what you think was the most important issue at the council meeting. You lit into channel 33 for mischaracterizing the AECD stalemate, with no mention of “missing the more controversial issue,” implying that you felt this was in fact the correct issue to focus on. Channel 9 gets the AECD issue right, but now you decide that they aren’t focused on the REALLY important issue–the $110,000 police budget cut? Channel 2 also makes no mention of the $110,000 police department budget cut that was SO important just a few lines previously and…you don’t call them out? Now you think that the $800,000 road study that Channel 2 covered is the most important issue? Why not mention it for the other two stations, then?

    I thought framing this discussion using the Rashoman Effect was very well done. And I think the overall idea of the piece (comparing the ways the major media outlets cover the same story) is a really interesting/worthwhile concept. It could be a recurring column that I think a lot of people would be interested in following. But If you want to compare and contrast all three stations, you need to lay out the criteria beforehand and judge all three stations against the same measuring stick, not judge each one according to a different rubric.

    The Rashomon Effect is when the same event is judged by many different people in many different ways. The Creole/Petite Effect is when one person judges three different things in three different ways, but pretends to be treating them equally.

    Further, lots of stuff gets covered at a city council meeting. These media outlets aren’t cspan, they aren’t going to cover it all. They make choices about what’s most important. You think they made the wrong one? Fine. But I feel like I should point out…you’re having a hard time deciding what’s most important yourself….

    • admin says:

      Dr. LCH:

      I have to be honest, too…while I appreciate your analysis and constructive criticism, I would suggest that you reread the piece.

      You write, “Frankly, you seem confused or undecided about what you think is the most important issue.” I reread the piece and nowhere do I assess the relative importance of AEDC and the police department. Nowhere do I assess which issue is more worthy of media coverage; nor do I imply as much.

      I think the miscommunication has more to do with what you choose to infer rather than what you think I’ve implied.

      If you care to get a sense of what I think are the important issues, you need only read my reportage of Gonzales Council meetings in The Creole. Type “Gonzales Council” in the search bar and all my articles should appear for your perusal. I have also written other opinions which relate directly to the Council.

      My belief is that both AEDC and GPD have served the community very well and I believe that both should be funded sufficiently. But nowhere do I make that comment, even by implication, in the above opinion piece.

      The point of the piece, as you almost concede, is that the segments that the three stations aired were wildly different. Your comment bolsters the point. Maybe the piece was too nuanced and facetious, but the overarching point I tried to make is that anyone who gets their Gonzales council news from these three (especially two) medial outlets has no real sense of the current controversy, or what spawned it.

      I think it appropriate to address some of your particular assertions.

      1. “You lit into channel 33 for mischaracterizing the AEDC stalemate, with no mention of ‘missing the more controversial issue’”.

      First off, I don’t think I lit into 33. Now, I intentionally employed sarcasm to make the point I was trying to make. But, let’s not quibble. I lit into 33 for stating a blatant fabrication, not a mischaracterization of the AEDC stalemate. “Gonzales is broke” is what the anchor said just before saying the “general budget” was reduced from $100K to $50K.

      Maybe I shouldn’t have used sarcasm because you seem to have completely missed the point I was attempting to make. Let me be more direct. Channel 33 asserted something that is completely untrue…blatantly untrue. Yes, they completely omitted any mention of GPD funding too. Your right. I should have been even more critical of Channel 33.

      2. “Channel 9 gets the issue right” but I decide they’ve not focused on the “REALLY important issue.”

      As to Channel 9, the point I was trying to make is the utter lack of any depth to its reportage. It was hardly worth the effort. I believe its story was totally lacking in substance with regard to both the General Fund and Capital Outlay budgets (where you’ll find AEDC and GPD funding, respectively).

      Let me say again, I believe that both organizations are very important to the City of Gonzales and both deserving of more coverage than they received.

      And I believe, I wrote that GPD funding is the more “controversial” issue. That can, in no way, be interpreted to mean more important.

      3. You criticize that I “don’t call out” WBRZ for failing to mention GPD funding.

      Well, in fact, WBRZ did mention the police funding. Might I suggest, again, that you reread the piece.

      4. You say that I “Now” think the $800,000 road study is the most important issue to cover.

      To be frank, I can’t conceive of any rational interpretation of the piece which could have possibly formed this conclusion. I’m unsure how to address it. My issue with WBRZ was that it let Mr. Lacombe make a fabulous claim in the interview without speaking to Mayor Arceneaux to confirm or refute Lacombe’s statement.

      Again, nowhere in the piece do I opine as to the relative importance of any issue confronting the Council, though I could do so if you like.

      Thank you again for your analysis and readership. It pleases me that you took the time to write such lengthy commentary though I cannot understand how you arrived at your conclusions.

      Wade Petite, The Creole

  2. Regina Thomas says:

    I actually enjoyed the article. I think he got his point across. It is difficult to judge the three stations by the same yardstick when they reported three entirely different things. He actually made the point by stating what the three stations covered. The fact that he gave some his opinions on the importance of different issues did not take away from the fact that he was emphasizing how three totally different things were said by the three stations.

  3. Joe Niquiporo says:

    WOW, lots of words being burned up here but what get's pointed out in this article is the same thing we see everyday from TV news! Welcome to the lame stream media!

  4. Richard Acardo says:

    “They might have gotten it right if the Manship family still owned the newspaper.” Said Like Only Wade Petite Could Have Said It. Seems as though you have gotten it right all along…

  5. Sharon LeBlanc says:

    If anyone reads this Creole article is confused you should attend the meetings. Don’t depend on the Baton Rouge Advocate nor the TV channels to report on what you should have your feet and hands on right now. What’s going on with these three councilmen are not being reported properly. I know some people have a hard time reading exacting what The Creole is trying to get across. People of Gonzales need to get involved – bottom line. Don’t assume TV and the Advocate are telling you the truth! Our city is alive and doing well. But if we allow these councilmen to continue with their agenda and not the agenda of the city and it’s people, we will be in trouble very soon. Support your city. Sign the petition for the recall

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