Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas yesterday ordered city employees not to talk to reporters, the Galveston County Daily News reports. Only she and City Manager Steve LeBlanc are now allowed to address the media.
Thomas also said reporters would be allowed on the island only if they had proper identification, but she didn't explain what that meant. She also said the media was forbidden from visiting areas on Galveston's far West End but would not explain why.
City Spokesperson Mary Jo Naschke denied the city was trying to stifle coverage, instead saying personnel were simply too busy to handle press inquiries. But at a press conference held yesterday, Thomas and LeBlanc talked for less than 30 minutes and answered only five questions.
In an editorial published yesterday, Galveston Daily News President and Publisher Dolph Tillotson called the move the city's "first serious misstep" in handling the disaster:
First, it castrates rather than empowers department heads who should be treated with more respect. Chief Charles Wiley of the city police department, for example, certainly is smart enough and wise enough to handle media questions. To silence him and other trusted department heads is stupid and degrading to trusted city leaders.
Second, the move will force reporters to go to other sources, and some of those may be less reliable and less knowledgeable than official city sources. Why the city would wish this to happen is beyond us. It will make the news media's job more difficult, and it will make the information somewhat less reliable.
Last and most important, one of the major issues facing the city and facing the media trying to tell this story is the many thousands of evacuees spread across North America. They desperately seek information about their homes, their businesses and their loved ones.
A news blackout will cause those people, helpless evacuees, to suffer longer. Not knowing the full story is the worst pain they face, and the city has helped prolong and make that pain greater by blocking access to news.
He called on Thomas and LeBlanc to reconsider the policy.
(Photo of Mayor Thomas from City of Galveston website)