ALL THE MEDIA LOVES A disaster, and the massive Ash Wednesday Earthquake made Seattle the darling of the national press. The disturbances at Mardi Gras also got some attention, though generally as part of accounts of Fat Tuesday violence in several California cities.
Naturally, our 6.8 shaker got noticed in earthquake country: The Puget Sound quake was the subject of a dozen stories in the San Francisco Chronicle and 16 in the Los Angeles Times. But The New York Times and Chicago Tribune (nine stories) also weighed in. Hey, even the mighty Cleveland Plain Dealer gave us a story a day for three days running.
Here are just a few of the jolting revelations:
The LA Times claimed some Seattle residents were disappointed that the Alaskan Way Viaduct survived the quake. The only locals quoted were ancient columnist Emmett Watson (the famous "Lesser Seattle" founder probably wants potential immigrants to fear our collapsing roadways) and University of Washington design egghead Bob Filley, who apparently feels that multiple deaths would be a small price to pay for the chance to build really nice new waterfront condos.
Political reporters can't get enough of Mayor Paul Schell. Both The New York Times and LA Times were favorably impressed with the mayor's ability to call up a natural disaster, thus keeping explosive Mardi Gras riot footage off the nightly news. Each published a feature story on the mayor, noting that the tremor had bolstered Hizzoner's political future.
Schell press secretary Dick Lilly has been fingered as the founder of Seattle's Mardi Gras celebration. The New York Times claims Lilly, then a public relations consultant, came up with the idea in 1977 to remedy slow winter liquor sales. While in no hurry to claim credit, Lilly acknowledges that he worked to promote the first such celebration.
New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial offered up a modicum of sympathy for Seattle, Philadelphia, Fresno, and other cities plagued by Mardi Gras violence. "The lesson here is you can't duplicate or replicate or imitate Mardi Gras," Morial told Los Angeles Times reporter Jeffrey Gettleman. "This festival is intrinsic to our culture, and people here and nowhere else understand all the unwritten rules." The written rules proved a bit more problematic: Some 500 people were arrested in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, almost half for "flashing."