The national media created the myth. It appears that the investigative bent of the cable news networks and the rest of the nation's media never arrived as it did in Katrina a few years earlier.
The coverage was all human interest, which is, of course, a staple after every natural disaster. Otherwise, no one ever bothered to examine the performance of government at the federal, state, and local levels in the days, months, and years after the tornado.
Each time an anniversary of the disaster has arrived, the media does not investigate what happened, it just relives the horror stories of May 22 and focuses on what has truly been a remarkable recovery.
To be fair, those parts of the story need to be told and John Hacker and I have shared many of those in our books about the tornado. The spirit and resilience of the people of Joplin captured the attention of the nation and with good reason.
The volunteers who came from across the nation and even from overseas played a major role in the recovery and deserved to have their stories told.
And in many aspects, our governmental entities did what they were supposed to do. That is something that was pointed out in media coverage and is featured prominently in the books Hacker and I have done and on the Turner Report.
With few exceptions, however, the failings of government and support organizations have remained untouched by local media, with the exception of the Turner Report and KOAM.
While the local media, especially the Globe, concentrated on the successes, their lack of scrutiny helped lead to the disasters that were Wallace Bajjali, might-as-well spending, and the removal of Mark Rohr as city manager.
When Rohr was fired as city manager of League City, Texas, earlier this month, I read comments on the Joplin Globe and KZRG websites that defended the former city manager, again bringing up the "good-old-boy" network that they saydefied the people and ran Rohr out of town.
That same message was pushed in two letters to the editor in the Wednesday Globe.
Dianne Slater of Joplin wrote of Rohr's firing. "When he did what he was hired to do and received the accolades of the people, he was fired. Not because he didn't do an outstanding job, but because a few arrogant old men were jealous- he stole their thunder.'
Dean Powell of Pittsburg also defended Rohr. "I have had a soft spot in my heart for former City Manager Mark Rohr since I watched him guide Joplin through its devastating tornado a few years back."
Powell's next paragraph comes to the heart of the problem.
"I have never even met Rohr personally, so really all my opinions are based on newspaper and television coverage of the recovery efforts."
The local media, primarily the Joplin Globe, created the myths that we had supermen in charge in Mark Rohr in the city and C. J. Huff in the school district. Their successes were chronicled, as they should have been, but the problems they encountered were covered up.
In the case of Mark Rohr, the Globe even felt it necessary to take Rohr's side and do his dirty work for him.
The newspaper was following a pattern it had established in 2008 with its coverage of matters involving Mayor Jon Tupper. Using what was clearly information provided by Rohr, the Globe published negative stories about Tupper that eventually led to Tupper's removal from the City Council.
In that case, at least, there was evidence that provided reason for getting rid of someone who was an obstacle to Rohr.
That was not the case when the Globe began pursuing Councilman Bill Scearce when Scearce was challenging Rohr's actions and behavior. This time, unlike with Tupper, Scearce had not done anything to provide Rohr with an opening.
So Globe Editor Carol Stark had to go back two decades to begin pushing the story of an FBI investigation of a gambling operation that had been run by people who were renting offices from Scearce. The newspaper breathlessly reported that the investigation, which had closed years earlier with the conviction of the people who were running the operation. The Globe bombarded the FBI with Freedom of Information requests, wrote that the federal agency was stonewalling by not immediately responding to those requests and planting the idea that federal agents were going to swoop in at any second and take away Scearce in handcuffs.
All because Scearce dared to question the way Mark Rohr was running the city.
When Scearce held a news conference to defend himself against the Globe's allegations, he made it clear he was going to make a statement and would not be answering any questions. A recording of that news conference, which the Globe felt sufficiently proud of to post on its website, features reporter Debby Woodin badgering Scearce after the statement had been read, while he was distributing copies, and shouting a series of questions, that were more worded like accusations.
Finally, Scearce snapped at her, "Didn't you hear me? Don't you understand English?"
That was apparently what the Globe was waiting for since its coverage of the Scearce press conference focused more on how rude he was to Debby Woodin than the content of his statement, which made it clear how the Globe was interfering in city matters.
The Globe also began pushing the idea that there was a voting bloc on the City Council that was standing in the way of progress. It was the same bloc that eventually voted to fire Rohr. To this day, the Globe has never explained how the majority of the Council can be a "bloc," while the four who were in the minority were valiantly defending the reputation of the city.
The Globe's handling of the Loraine Report also showed its penchant to go above and beyond in defending Rohr. When the report was revealed at a city council meeting, 10 pages were not included because they involved personnel matters.
The newspaper sued the city and received accolades from the national media for the way it stood up for the public's right to know and eventually came out on top in the judge's ruling.
Its handling of the missing pages, once they had been released, proved that the major interest was in protecting Rohr. Nearly all of its coverage of what was in the report was viewed from Rohr's perspective and the newspaper began a drumbeat of criticism of the Loraine investigation for veering from its initial mission to investigate Scearce's connection to the gambling ring and Councilman Mike Woolston's involvement in the sale of land in the tornado area.
Though the newspaper had the complete report days before the April municipal election, it devoted a minimum amount of space to the report's revelations about Woolston's activities, which were, at the least, a conflict of interest, despite the fact that Woolston was up for re-election.
Instead, the criticism mounted for the council members who had voted to fire Rohr, two of whom, Jack Golden and Tricia Raney, were also seeking re-election.
When Rohr returned to the City Council after his firing and delivered a rant against the council members who fired him, describing their "corruption" and indicating that they would go to hell, the Globe almost treated it as if it were Douglas McArthur speaking to Congress after he was fired by Harry Truman.
Nowhere did the newspaper live up to its obligation to provide its readers with context- this was not the first time Rohr had been fired and had blamed it on a "good-old-boy" network. It was not the first time he had leveled accusations of corruption against the people who fired him. It was a pattern.
So it came as no surprise when a state audit of the city showed conclusively that Rohr, Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce President Rob O'Brian, Mayor Michael Seibert and others had conspired to install Wallace Bajjali as the city's master developer and when the audit also provided ample evidence that Woolston was connected to Wallace-Bajjali's land-flipping scheme that cost the taxpayers hundreds of thousands the Globe attacked the audit, picking at a couple of small errors to give the indication that the operation of the City of Joplin under Mark Rohr was what Dr. Pangloss in Candide described as "the best of all possible worlds."
In the past five and a half years, the Joplin Globe has done everything it can to preserve the myth of the supermen who led the city after the tornado. It has become more vital than ever for the newspaper to protect that myth because it is in too much too deep.
To suddenly veer toward the truth would be an admission that the Globe has been misleading the public.
A growing number of the people have already come to that conclusion.