Confessions of a “Lone Nut”

While making a presentation last June, a friend introduced me to a powerful idea: “The ‘first follower’ transforms the ‘lone nut’ into a leader. If the leader is the flint, the first follower is the spark that really makes the fire.”

At a public meeting held at the Omni Royal Orleans on Tuesday, 9/21/10, the French Quarter-Marigny Historic Area Management District (FQMHAMD) also pitched a presentation including a slide that cited “24 murders” as having occurred  in the French Quarter since January 1, 2007. This information was also published in the FQMHAMD’s “Management and Operations Plan” approved at its 9/7/10 Board of Commissioner’s meeting: “Within [a] 1/2 square mile, there have been 23 murders since January 2007.” (Source: Page 1, “Executive Summary.”)

Among the French Quarter residents in attendance at this meeting, this statistic caused a profound stir — while its accuracy was questioned at that moment, no one of appropriate authority was on hand to confirm its veracity.

This erroneous data was reported by the Times-Picayune and in a WDSU news broadcast shortly thereafter.

NOPD Eighth District Commander Edwin Hosli was contacted and verification of this statistic was requested. When it became known on Wednesday, 9/29/10, that the NOPD would be correcting this data publicly, I was contacted and asked to facilitate distributing the corrected data far and wide, as quickly as possible.

Given that I’d already written about the parcel fee measure and was interviewed as a “vocal opponent” of the security district proposal by the media during the prior week, I was concerned about over-saturating the issue. I did not want to have the release of the corrected data to be perceived as being another “me-against-them” gambit and feared that it might be dismissed out-of-hand, i.e., “We already know you don’t support this.”  It was critical that the corrected data be initially released by someone other than myself.

I contacted a friend who had also attended the 9/21/10 meeting, who’d immediately doubted the accuracy of the murder statistic as presented, and shared with her what needed to happen after the correction was published. I then asked for her help by releasing the corrected data in her own words.

The Times-Picayune issued its correction on the morning of Thursday, 9/30/10. I forwarded the relevant media source links to the friend I’d contacted the day before, who wrote and posted a blog entry independently. I was no longer the “lone nut” in this scenario; a powerful and articulate spark had been ignited, and the correction resonated with those who had also questioned the statistic’s accuracy when it was presented by the FQMHAMD.

Later that afternoon I sent out an email blast detailing how the misinformation had been communicated by FQMHAMD and the media, which also featured a link to this friend’s editorial blog post.

A few hours later, a “second follower” (a prominent citizens group) reported the correction of the data through a separate and widely-circulated email blast: ” …we’d like to mention an important correction that has just come to light.  The FQMHAMD Management and Operations Plan states, and media outlets  have reported, that there have been 24 murders in the French Quarter since January of 2007. However, according to Captain Hosli of the Eighth District NOPD, ‘The correct number for the time span in the French Quarter is seven.'”

On Friday, 10/1/10, word on the street indicated that the distribution of the corrected information had made a significant impact — the credibility of the security district proponents was being questioned and eroding rapidly. While a second citizens group attempted to explain away the FQMHAMD-issued misinformation that same day by sending out its own members-only email blast, it became evident that this effort was too little and too late.

(At a members-and-invited-guests-only meeting of this pro-tax citizens group held during the evening Wednesday, 9/29/10, NOPD Eighth District Commander Hosli addressed the attendees and corrected the murder statistic error verbally. It is disappointing that this group chose to not share notification of his in-person correction until two days later — after it was formally published by the Times-Picayune and distributed in the manner described the day before.)

In a span of six hours’ time, a movement was started. Its momentum carried over to the polls two days later, resulting in 589 votes against (65%) to 317 votes in favor (35%).

The FQMHAMD and its supporters were quite well-organized with a professionally-produced “Management and Operations Plan,” mailers, flyers, telebanks, banners, gate signs, t-shirts, buttons, email distributions, volunteers trooping door-to-door, plus multiple political endorsements… And yet, two-thirds of our community voted to reject this property tax measure.

It is unfortunate that the FQMHAMD did not use the resources at its command to verify the data being used to justify the need for tax payer-funded private security.

There was no “organized opposition” fighting this, nor was there any financial support. The only things required were a consistent emphasis on fact-checking, plus one “lone nut” and one “first follower” who were willing to start a movement.

Those who were backing the security district tax measure should take note: The revolution has been digitized, where it travels faster and more accurately than word-of-mouth at cocktail parties hosted behind the closed doors of private residences.

If “misinformation” defeated the parcel fee ballot measure, then who was truly its source?

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