So the deal Wednesday was, the local public-radio station was hosting an event around the one-year anniversary of Detroit’s exit from Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy. All the members of the Detroit Journalism Cooperative — comprised of several nonprofit news outlets in Southeast Michigan, including the one I work for — participated. My colleagues Mike and Chastity were drafted to sit on panels, and I was asked to do one of three one-on-one onstage interviews. The governor, the mayor and the bankruptcy judge were all set to appear. I drew the judge. The event was live streamed and was promised for broadcast later.
This sounds like classic public broadcasting, doesn’t it? Earnest public-affairs programming, done before a live audience in a university setting? Very eat-your-vegetables. Something you might want a hit of espresso beforehand, so you stay awake.
You must live in Minneapolis, then. This is Detroit.
I got there way early for the run-through, and so didn’t realize protesters were gathering outside as the crowd arrived. Back in the green room we were talking about stories and assignments and love-your-shoes and this-is-the-first-time-I’ve-seen-you-in-a-tie stuff. The show started, the introductions of the funders and participants and all the polite-applause material went by, and then it was time for Gov. Rick Snyder and Jenn White, the host of “All Things Considered” on Michigan Radio, one-on-one onstage.
We were watching on the live stream in the green room. The booing carried over the mics. Hmm. OK.
The interview commenced, and it got louder. It became evident it wasn’t just the usual boo-hiss stuff, but people standing up in the audience and shouting angrily. I walked out and stood in the wings after Jenn addressed the audience, asking for respect. (To no avail.)
I guess I should pause here to explain that opinions on the Detroit bankruptcy vary widely here. I had lunch Wednesday with a lawyer and engineer, two smart guys, suburbanites, and I asked what they thought I should ask Judge Steven Rhodes about. Silence. The lawyer spoke.
“We owe that man such a debt,” he said. “I don’t know if we can calculate the good he’s done for this city.”
This is a common opinion among the business community, the establishment, the people who are generally middle class, and swaths of the population itself. The night the trial was finally gaveled to a close, I was out with friends at a bar, and one insisted we all drink a toast, because baby, the debt is shed, the skies are blue and Detroit is coming back, leaner and stronger and damn it’s really gonna happen this time.
This is a simplistic view. Even the city’s biggest boosters admit the way back will be far more difficult, that the city’s future is brighter but still uncertain. But you get the idea.
Among the protesters, not so much. Generally speaking, these would be the lefties who despise the governor on general principles and specific ones, who think the whole Chapter 9 proceeding was a scheme to rob and rape the city, strip its assets for the benefit of the ruling class, upend democracy, punish the poor and tilt the playing field even further to the benefit of the wealthy and empowered. Some of these beliefs rest on shaky contentions, but there is a case to be made on this side, too.
(For the best, unbiased overview of the reasons Detroit failed financially, one that won’t require you to read three books, I recommend “How Detroit Went Broke,” the Detroit Free Press project from two years ago. Take you 30 minutes to read. Worth your time, if you care about this issue.)
So that’s where we are, a year later. There is much positive news from the city itself. It actually has a budget surplus. Street lights are coming back on, more buses are on the street, trash is being picked up — all good. The schools are a mess, blight is confounding and jobs are still by and large outside the city — all bad. Pensioners had to swallow a smaller hit to their monthly checks and a big hit to their health care — also bad. And for the best overview of the past year, I recommend Next Chapter Detroit’s four-part series that ran in the last month.
The governor’s interview ended. I’m not sure how Jenn got through it, because the yelling and catcalling continued throughout.
The next group was a panel. One member, the head of the city’s pensioners’ association, announced she wasn’t going to say much, because of the audience’s disrespect. They kept yelling. The MC tried to calm the crowd, but didn’t do much good.
Then it was our turn. The first two minutes of the allotted eight went pretty well, but about the time I started getting countdown cues from the floor director, the yelling started. My strategy was to stay focused on the judge; it’s been my experience that when you’re mic’d, even loud yelling in the background comes across, on the air, as a clamor way off in the distance. But it kept getting louder and louder, like this:
(I think that’s me barking QUIET in the last second or two.)
And then it went like this:
And I guess this is how I’ll remember it:
Bitch on wheels.
After the end of the interview dissolved in chaos, the mayor announced he was pulling out and the event was cut short after an hour. Just another night talkin’ public affairs.
And you thought public broadcasting was boring.
So that was Wednesday. Now we slide into the weekend, into the penultimate Christmas week. Everything reaches a crescendo on Friday, and then I can relax a bit. So not much today, links-wise. What do we have here?
More evidence that Ted Cruz has few friends.
How terror fuels a rightward shift, or, in other words, how terrorism does exactly what it’s supposed to do.
This is fantastic: A short scene from “Downton Abbey,” done by the original actors, with American accents.
A good weekend, all. I might actually sleep late.