The quote: "Don't get stuck on stupid."
The context is Lt. General Honore and New Orleans Mayor Nagin's press conference before Hurricane Rita knew which path she would choose. Attention was given to where evacuations were to take place. Reporters were interested in several points and the Lt. General stepped in to stop the line of questioning and insert a no-nonsense press briefing.
The right side of the political spectrum hails this as a "put them in their place" show. The 'them' being reporters from the print and television corps. But does this vacuous one-liner hold some greater truth that is lost on the press somehow?
Hurricane Katrina is still top of mind for all survivors in and around the area where she struck. The natural disaster left and indelible image in the minds of millions of Americans: entire towns rescinded by the winds and storm surge, levees awash with flooding waters, and citizens who took a refuge of last resort mired in waste and without basic needs or security met. From all of this, it is likely that the next hurricane to possibly draw a bead on the city will garner extra attention with regards to planning.
Hence the press conference called to disseminate information critical to those who wish to leave once again. The reporters couch their questions based on the historical precedent set in New Orleans which appears to irritate Lt. Gen. Honore, and he begins to reprimand the reporters for their questions.
Honore: And Mr. Mayor, let's go back, because I can see right now, we're setting this up as he said, he said, we said. All right? We are not going to go, by order of the mayor and the governor, and open the convention center for people to come in. There are buses there. Is that clear to you? Buses parked. There are 4,000 troops there. People come, they get on a bus, they get on a truck, they move on. Is that clear? Is that clear to the public?
Female reporter: Where do they move on...
Honore: That's not your business.
We can see that the Lt. Gen. has already noted what the reporters should ask about. This is not the appropriate answer though. Citizens that are going to evacuate might wish to know where they are going to be taken, yes? This is a valid question on the part of the reporter, and Lt. Gen. Honore implies that he knows what their business should and should not be.
It would have been much more appropriate to say, "At this time we cannot say 100% where citizens will be evacuated to due to the nature of the hurricane not picking a final destination. When a destination is determined, we will do our best to inform the public and the press." His choice though is to withhold information (he may not have even known himself the answer to the question) based on his own agenda. It already gives the impression of hiding something.
After a question on what occurred during Hurricane Katrina, Lt. Gen. Honore states, "Let's get a little trust here because you're starting to act like this is your problem. You are carrying the message, ok?" That little line says a great deal of how some would utterly love the press to operate. Do not ask the question, just repeat what I say.
However, that is not a reporter's duty.
Further along though we have the phrase that will catch on for a full three months in the internet world with the more conservative world:
Male reporter: General, a little bit more about why that's happening this time, though, and did not have that last time...
Honore: You are stuck on stupid. I'm not going to answer that question. We are going to deal with Rita. This is public information that people are depending on the government to put out. This is the way we've got to do it. So please. I apologize to you, but let's talk about the future. Rita is happening. And right now, we need to get good, clean information out to the people that they can use. And we can have a conversation on the side about the past, in a couple of months.
Admittedly, the reporter is delving into an area that is not the concern of the Lt. Gen. The question could be posed to someone who has responsibility and/or culpability for Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, say someone who is running the blame game at full throttle such as former FEMA Director Michael Brown. Had the Lt. Gen. skipped the first sentence, his response would not be noteworthy - just another government bureacrat removing himself from a question not in his jurisdiction.
Yet it is the insult that sells this interchange for conservatives. It allows a voice to the internal frustration they may sense at press coverage that somehow seems more critical of a Republican President than it should be. Reporters are stupid because they ask questions that are critical. Within a week of the comment many throughout the internet community thought the answer "Don't get stuck on stupid," should be a rejoinder for all officials when speaking to the press.
I'd pay money to see David Gregory in the White House Press Corps foaming at the mouth over something trivial Scott McClellan said, and have McClellan say, "David, you're stuck on stupid. I'm not going to answer that."
Reporters do not exist soley to accept a press release without question from Enron, nor are they there to allow government officials dictation-rights when speaking of a country purchasing yellow cake from Niger as a premise for war. There will always be a need for serious questions and honest answers. It is quite apparent that when one side feels the pinch of these serious questions, they would rather they be dismissed with a meaningless answer rather than hold anyone accountable for their actions.
I am reminded of investigative journalist Bill Moyers quote regarding the duty of the press to the people: " I came to see that news is what people want to keep hidden, and everything else is publicity." Always question those in power.