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Harry Shearer

Harry Shearer

Posted: June 18, 2009 02:02 AM

Is the Corps of Engineers Astro-Turfing Its Critics?


If you were inclined to disbelieve the three independent forensic engineering reports that blamed design and construction errors by the US Army Corps of Engineers for the more than 50 levee breaches that resulted in the flooding of New Orleans in 2005, the behavior of the Corps towards its critics might induce you to take a second look at the matter.

WWL-TV, a television station that actually appears to take the phrase "local news" with an unusual (for this country) degree of seriousness, is reporting that Corps employees have been logging on to nola.com, a main news aggregating and commenting website for local news, to denigrate critics of the agency:

"What stuck out though was the wording of the comments, in many ways mirroring the news releases from the corps of engineers," (former nola.com editor in chief Jon) Donley said.


...Donley said he also noticed these users who attacked corps critics were using corps equipment. He made a spreadsheet of the activity over six weeks at the end of December and beginning of January.

"During that six-week period, there were nearly 700 comments from corps IPs, the same group of people I had been watching for over two years," Donley said. "So this was not an isolated incident."

Remember, the Corps--which itself admitted some culpability for the 2005 levee failures--is tasked with the responsibility for repairing the "hurricane protection system" mandated by Congress. One would hope, given the fact that this task is running behind the scheduled completion date of 2011, that Corps employees would be spending their time helping to keep the city safe, instead of attacking critics of the agency.

But in New Orleans, when the subject is the Corps, and its federal overseers, hope is something that was left at the starting gate last November. And change is what's being appropriated.

UPDATE (6/19): Jon Donley now explains why he's gone public: