Media 17/

There’s a difference between honest criticism and personal attacks or piling on. Legitimate criticism arises from legitimate differences of opinion or violations of legal or ethical rules, whereas the latter uses accusations or innuendo to garner attention by shocking the sensibilities and doing harm.

This is true in our daily lives, but especially so in politics. The latest “controversy” over Mayor LaToya Cantrell and her dining companion clearly falls in the latter category.

At a time when citizens face serious infrastructure issues and almost daily attacks on individual rights by Gov. Jeff Landry, news stories based on photos of the mayor enjoying a balcony meal with her favorite bodyguard are a petty, pointless distraction — not serious journalism. Worst of all, they say more about the news media than about the mayor’s many scandals and missteps, which only encourages people to tune out the media.

On April 16, the Metropolitan Crime Commission filed a complaint against Cantrell and Officer Jeffrey Vappie, a member of the mayor’s security detail to whom she has been romantically linked (though they have both denied that). The “evidence” is a set of photos of them having dinner together, which was released, along with the complaint, to local media outlets. That is the sum total of the MCC’s complaint, which calls on NOPD to open a formal investigation into whether both Cantrell and Vappie violated any laws or rules, from nepotism by Cantrell to Vappie (literally) sitting down on the job.

If any Human Resources violations occurred, they strike us as de minimis infractions that can and should be handled internally. As for Cantrell’s relationship with Vappie, while it might provide grist for the local gossip mill, it’s neither news nor worthy of tut-tutting press releases, official denunciation and calling for yet more wide-ranging investigations.

To put it bluntly, who the mayor dines with is nobody’s business — unless taxpayers are picking up the tab. This is New Orleans, not some starch-collared New England hamlet governed by Puritanical scolds. Like everybody here, Cantrell can do what she wanna, as long as it doesn’t harm others.

Over its more than seven-decade history, the privately funded MCC has often acted as a governmental watchdog against police corruption in the city and surrounding parishes. However, that is not the case here. MCC has been one of the mayor’s most vocal, and consistent opponents, and this latest move against Cantrell and Vappie feels more like politics and not good government.

In fact, we’re hard pressed to imagine the MCC going to similar lengths over a photo of an NOPD officer eating with someone — even another public official — other than Cantrell.

Moreover, any preoccupation with the mayor’s personal life gives Cantrell ammunition to dismiss legitimate criticisms of her very real failures as further evidence of a broader, race- and gender-based campaign against her. For media to use the MCC’s misplaced complaint as a pretext for writing more salacious — and speculative — stories about Cantrell opens them to the same accusation.

Enough with the counterproductive distractions. The MCC, the media and citizens should focus on the real problems confronting New Orleans.