Pam said it on the bus last night after our Burger King stop and I immediately agreed: we didn’t want the field expedition to end. Wet and exhausting and muddy as the day was, yesterday was no less enlightening, no less an adventure than the day before it, or the day before that. It was also the most difficult day for my for my brain, machine gunned as it was by Major Korneliussen’s facts and figures and hydrology charts and encyclopedic knowledge of the Mississippi River system. I still don’t understand all points of pressure on the Mississippi river levee system that led to the Birds Point breach, and so I don’t understand every point of contention. That’s terribly frustrating, but I think every journalist has to deal with it.
Yesterday was very instructive for me in thinking about sources and framing. After talking with Major John and the biologists, I felt almost put off by Mayor Mainord and his conference with us. For one thing, he stated an opinion as fact when he said that it wasn’t the Corps’ responsibility to protect river life. But, as we found out when Bob Hrabik spoke of the Corps’ double mandate from Congress, it very much is part of the Corps’ function. That, for me, undermined much of his credibility. On top of that, he either didn’t understand or willingly ignored the organizational structure of the Corps when he said that the Corps had 5 billion dollars in its pocket it could use to rebuild the levee to its original height. My own reaction—this feeling of being put off by Mainord—might also say something about my own biases which I have to think about as a journalist. At the end of the day, it was one source’s words against another’s and my personal inclination is to trust Major John, because he’s an engineer, and trust Bob and Dave, because they’re scientists. I have engineers and people of science in my family and among my friends, and I tend to put my faith in them because I don’t understand much of science and engineering. But Korneliussen and the biologists were a spokespeople, just as Mainord was, and you have to go to the documents and dig out more sources to dig out the truth—or, really, to get anywhere close to it.
– Ben Unglesbee