Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The NYT's Bullshit Story on Porta Potties and the Jon Stewart Rally (Or: In Defense of Bill Line, the Ornery NPS Spokesman)

There was a bit of a kerfuffle yesterday over Bill Line, a spokesperson for the National Park Service. Apparently he's a jerk.

It came up now because of the Oct 7 NYT article "Runners and Rallies Will Not Share Toilets" (print version: "Marathon on Mall Has a Lock on Portable Toilets").

The reporter, Juliet Macur, was writing about porta potties and the Stewart/Colbert rally, which is a day before a marathon here. She included this:

“It is common, typical, regular, ordinary for us to handle multiple events on the National Mall at any given time. Do you get that?”

When asked if the rallies and the marathon might create a problem regarding the availability of toilets on the Mall, Mr. Line sounded incredulous.

“I have every right to ask questions, and I am asking questions that I would like an answer to,” he shouted. “Who’s making these allegations? I want to know who is saying there will be a problem with portable restrooms.”

The case against Line was laid out by Lydia DePillis of the City Paper. I have no doubt that he's a jerk.

I just don't think the Macur article is an example to further the thesis; if anything, it shows that Mr. Line sometimes has to deal with absurdity.

Take a look at the Macur article. It's bullshit. Ooh, so the marathon people won't share their porta potties with the Stewart/Colbert people. Not news. If there was actually any evidence that the Stewart/Colbert were having serious trouble acquiring the necessary number of porta potties, that would be news. The Times reports nothing of the sort (the print edition headline borders on misleading). That leaves it as a pointless article.

The article quotes Steve Albani of Comedy Central, who deserves some blame here for not getting an answer to the reporter's question. (After the article was published, Rally4Sanity tweeted: "Rumors of a Port-a-Potty shortage completely unfounded. Feel free to bring all your bodily wastes to Rally for Sanity.")

Macur gets this line from the marathon organizer guy:
“I understand that they were having problems ordering Porta Potties, that they might have to go as far as Baltimore to get them, but I just didn’t want to share,” he said.
Ok, but it doesn't sound like the end of the world.

Sure, Line should have been nicer. But Macur could have also stopped bothering him after he made clear that from his experience with multiple events on the mall, there was no reason to believe this was going to be a problem.

Coda: Ryan Kearney of got a final answer to the question. He writes today that he spoke to Comedy Central spokeswoman Renata Luczak, and she said "We have our own Porta Potties. We're all good."

I'm sure the NYT will do a follow-up, "sorry we wasted your time trying to print a clever article" etc.


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