"I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees." -- George W. Bush, September 1
"I think one of the things that people want us to do here is to play a blame game. We've got to solve problems. We're problem-solvers. There will be ample time for people to figure out what went right and what went wrong. What I'm interested in is helping save lives. That's what I want to do. And I want to make sure those poor folks who have been taken out of their communities and who -- who live in a -- whose world has been shattered get the help they need." -- George W. Bush, September 6
"Whatever the criticisms and the after-action report may be about what was right and what was wrong looking back, what would be a horrible tragedy would be to distract ourselves from avoiding further problems because we're spending time talking about problems that have already occurred. ...What do you want to have us spend our time on now? Do we want to make sure we are feeding, sheltering, housing, and educating those who are distressed, or do we want to begin the process of finger-pointing?" -- Michael Chertoff, September 4
"While the president is saying that he wants to work together as a team, I think the White House operatives have a full court press on to blame state and local officials whether they're Republicans or Democrats." -- Senator Mary Landrieu
"This is clearly going to be a very long recovery process. And the sooner we've identified those responsible for the Katrina tragedy, the sooner we can make sure they're not around to screw up the recovery. So, yes, now is precisely the time for assessing blame. Let a thousand pointed fingers bloom!" -- Arianna Huffington, September 6
And what is the Bush administration doing? Blaming everyone else, particularly the Louisiana and New Orleans officials, while simultaneously dodging blame for themselves. Mayor Ray Nagin is being targeted by government officials and right-wing hate radio as the one person responsible for all of the incompetence and indifference displayed by the federal government. Bush officials are trying to claim that Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco failed to request help, a flat lie: here's her letter requesting federal assistance dated Sunday, August 28, in which she says that she ordered mandatory evacuations of the coastal areas of Louisiana on August 26 (the lie is that Bush had to step in and publicly ask residents to evacuate on August 27; Blanco and the other regional governors were already mandating evacuations). In fact, requests for aid from the governors of Louisiana and Mississippi were received on August 26, according to the Department of Defense. On Sunday, August 28, Nagin ordered the mandatory evacuation of his city, following up on Governor Blanco's order of two days before. On the same day, Bush demanded that Alabama declare a state of emergency, thus allowing the federal government to take charge of all disaster relief efforts. Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi have already been declared disaster states -- the federal government is ALREADY overseeing -- or not overseeing -- relief efforts. (CBS) This pathetic skein of attempts to dodge responsibility is as predictable as it is loathsome. Responsibility for the incompetence of the response must lie with the person ultimately in charge: George W. Bush. (Washington Post) Thankfully, Louisiana officials are refusing to allow the federal government to pin the blame on them. What exactly did Bush officials do during this critical time? Apparently, those who weren't partying, vacationing, or modeling their new shoes were arguing over who exactly was in charge of the relief efforts. Lovely.
Currently, the administration's mantra is to accuse Democrats, stranded Katrina victims, errant Republicans, and anyone else who raises a voice in criticism of playing what Karl Rove dubs "the blame game." (A prime example is conservative activist Grover Norquist's declaration that the chaos in New Orleans is because of "looting in a Democratic city run by a Democratic mayor and a Democratic governor.") Let's follow The Nation's lead and take a closer look at the administration's own "blame game:" "As Republicans desperately cry out of one corner of their mouths to stop the blame game, they have been blaming everyone but themselves since this catastrophe," writes Nation editor Katrina Vanden Heuvel. In yet another outrage connected with the tragedy, White House officials have been spending far more time and effort in trying to contain the PR disaster sparked by their response than they ever did trying to address the needs of the victims of the hurricane. (The New York Times says, "This is not a game. It is critical to know what 'things went wrong,' as Mr. Bush put it. But we also need to know which officials failed -- not to humiliate them, but to replace them with competent people.")
Blame the victims: Both Chertoff and Brown have fallen all over one another to blame those residents who either chose to stay, or were forced to stay, in New Orleans during the storm. "The ones who got out are fine," Chertoff told the press, failing to understand that most of the ones who got out still lost their homes, their jobs, and perhaps friends and family members who stayed. As for FEMA's intolerable delay in finally entering the city, Brown blames the looters, a truly hysterical and indefensible choice considering that widespread looting did not begin until thousands of trapped victims began running out of stockpiled food and water and were not being brought any. GOP senator Rick Santorum piles on, muttering that those who stayed behind during the hurricane should be fined for causing so much trouble. (He has since "modified" this assertion.) Columnist Maureen Dowd writes, "[W]hen they look at New Orleans, they see glaring incompetence and racial injustice, where the rich white people were saved and the poor black people were left to die hideous deaths. They see some conservatives blaming the poor for not saving themselves. So much for W.'s 'culture of life.'"
Blame the locals: The governor of Louisiana and the mayor of New Orleans are both Democrats. How convenient. Karl Rove's orchestrated PR strategy, as reported by the New York Times, is to blame Governor Blanco and Mayor Nagin for everything -- basically, hurl a barrage of accusations of mismanagement, incompetence, fraud, and anything else they can think of, and hope that something sticks or at least can be blown out of proportion. (The fact that there were documentable failures on both state and local levels just adds fuel to the fire; lies work so much better when you can salt a few grains of truth in amongst the falsehoods.) The more time and media attention that can be focused on the "failures" of the locals, the less focus on the incompetence, bungling, and impedence of the federal response. GOP attack dog Tom DeLay is being particularly visible in this particular part of the strategy; he has gone on record as saying that the reason Mississippi and Alabama aren't experiencing the same level of problems as Louisiana is because those states have Republican governors. No word as to whether DeLay will ever sign up for remedial geography classes. The New Orleans Times-Picayune responds to efforts to blame the locals: "[A]ccusing other government agencies of protecting turf is an awfully convenient dodge, a way of running from the stink of death that enveloped parts of the city over the past week." One of the most repeated, and fraudulent, charges from the Bush administration is that Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco failed to declare a state of emergency for days after the strike. In reality, Blanco declared a state of emergency for Louisiana on Friday, August 26, three days before Katrina made landfall.
A September 13 report from the Congressional Research Service finds that Louisiana governor Blanco did indeed make a timely and proper request for federal aid on August 27, as she has always insisted. This investigation cuts the legs out from underneath the administration's claims that Blanco didn't ask for aid until days after the storm hit. It also proves that Bush himself is a liar, as he has been among the loudest in asserting Blanco's failure to request federal assistance.
The story that Mayor Ray Nagin deliberately ignored a fleet of school buses is another popular canard in the Republican blame game. Conservative talk show host Sean Hannity said, "You would have thought that the 2,000 buses, school buses, that sat in the yards would have been used to help those people that were incapable of getting out on their own, but none of that had happened locally." In reality, the New Orleans school district only owns 324 buses, and of that number, 70 are broken down. Nagin has also repeatedly said that with the chaos of the evacuation, he found it impossible to find anywhere near enough bus drivers to drive the buses in time for them to be used efficiently. (At most, around 9000 victims would have been evacuated, and those would have most likely either been taken to the Superdome or to the convention center. Worse, Louisiana requested 700 buses from FEMA the day before the hurricane hit; FEMA only sent 100, and those were sent days too late. Of course, conservative writers such as the Washington Times's Wesley Pruden and Fox News's Sean Hannity have gleefully spread the "2000 wasted buses" lie, but unforgivably, more responsible pundits such as ABC's George Stephanopoulos have also piled on.
Blame the media. Brown blamed media coverage for the perception that New Orleans was in such dire straits: "I actually think security is darn good.... It seems to me that every time a bad person wants to cause a problem, there's somebody with a camera to stick in their face." Brown is obviously including as "bad people" the dozens who were filmed taking food, water, formula, and diapers from flooded stores, as well as the hundreds of starving protesters chanting "Help us! Help us!" in front of the convention center. This strategy serves a double purpose, as the mainstream media has shown some unaccustomed tendencies to actually ask tough questions and resist some of the White House spin; the administration hopes that this is merely a passing phase, and the mainstream media will revert to its "good puppy" role as White House enablers. Bringing pressure on the media to curb its newfound tendency to ask uncomfortable questions is a step in this direction.
Blame our own ignorance: Vanden Heuvel and I agree that this particular aspect of the adminstration "blame game" won't last much longer, for obvious reasons -- claims of ignorance are rarely strong defenses. Nevertheless, Brown's assertion that FEMA knew nothing of the thousands of refugees in the convention center until Thursday, September 1, and Bush's insane insistence that "I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees" have to be added to the toll racked up by the administration. (Has anyone else thought of the contention that no one thought the levees would breach in the context of the administration's equally insane contention that no one could have imagined anyone flying a hijacked plane into a tall building?) Perhaps most incomprehensibly, Bush seems to think that the entire tragedy was handled just fine: Democrat House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi "related that she had urged Bush at the White House on September 6 to fire Michael Brown. 'He said, "Why would I do that?" Pelosi said. I said because of all that went wrong, of all that didn't go right last week. And he said "What didn't go right?" ...Oblivious, in denial, dangerous."
"I have not heard a report of thousands of people in the convention center who don't have food and water." -- Michael Chertoff, September 1
Everything's coming up roses: Expect to see more of this in the days and weeks ahead. Chertoff may have started this particular ball rolling by saying, while many New Orleans residents were still struggling to stay above water, "There were some things that actually worked very well. There were some things that didn't." The administration is working very hard to focus the media's attention on heart-warming stories of families reunited, levees being rebuilt, and refugees finally being given food, water, and shelter. Barbara Bush hindered this particular strategy by doing her Marie Antoinette impression, saying that refugees in the Houston Astrodome seemed so grateful because, well, they're underprivileged to begin with, and therefore the "hots and a cot" they were getting suited them just fine. Representative Tom DeLay is also weighing in, telling his House audience, "The point is if you look at the big picture, [the federal relief response is] a phenomenal accomplishment by everybody involved. It's unbelievable."
There's gonna be an investigation: Sure there will. White House officials have mostly denied any knowledge of any sort of government investigation while Republicans in Congress fight against Democratic legislation and resolutions demanding an immediate inquiry. Bush himself redirected the entire sorry spectacle when he suddenly promised there would, indeed, be a government investigation into the federal government's failure to respond quickly and efficiently to Katrina -- an investigation to be conducted by himself. Interestingly, not even Republicans took Bush's promised investigation very seriously. Bush's promise that Dick Cheney will be heavily involved in the investigation adds even less credibility to an already-unbelievable contention. The New York Times comments, "[W]e have learned through bitter experience -- the Abu Ghraib nightmare is just one example -- that when this administration begins an internal investigation, it means a whitewash in which no one important is held accountable and no real change occurs." Breaking news tells us that congressional Republicans intend to create what they call a bipartisan, bicameral Katrina commission. The only problem with their idea of "bipartisanship" is that they have not bothered to inform the Democratic leadership of either the House or the Senate. At this point it isn't even sure that any Democrats will serve on the commission, and if they do, what, if any, influence they will have. Democratic blogger John Aravosis calls it a "fake rubber-stamp commission" and writes, "This can not pass the laugh test. The Republicans have decided to create a fake commission to give Bush a rubber stamp for all the crimes he's already committed. Just remember how uncooperative Bush was with the September 11 commission -- imagine what kind of stonewalling he'll do with these guys. This isn't our government anymore." Democratic congressional leaders call the proposed GOP committee a "sham and a charade," and are refusing to have anything to do with it.
"I'm looking forward to seeing this investigation Bush intends to personally launch. But why go through the motions? Just put out the report now blaming every failure on Louisiana's Democrats." -- Robyn Blumner
This is not the time to lay blame: Well, not for critics of the administration, anyway -- the blame laid BY the administration is smothering in its intensity even as administration officials ask that they themselves be shielded from criticism. The administration is pounding the message home that now is not the time for criticism, that too much needs to be done to help the flood victims and get on top of the task of rebuilding the cities devastated by Katrina. In a limited sense, they're right -- these tasks are overwhelming and need to be the primary focus of all of us. But to use these critical tasks as a shield from legitimate criticism is wrong. We are being told over and over again that "there will be a time" for these questions, just not now. Judging from the experience of the 9/11 attacks and their aftermath, that time will never come unless we force it. Dr. Jeffrey Feldman writes, "Americans need to step back from the direction the White House has shoved the debate in order to return to the issues that matter to us right now. We need to understand the `time' frame and reframe the debate."
Of all the pundits and commentators, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann may have summed up the entire "blame game" situation the best. This links to a blogged version of an on-air editorial made by Olbermann on September 5.
Canada's Global Research reports, "[T]he White House's new response to the political disaster prompted by Katrina -- one in which officials are attempting to blame authorities in Louisiana, rather than in Washington, for the slow aid -- underscores the Bush philosophy. According to [George] Haddow, [former deputy FEMA director,] instead of working with local officials to try to minimize the impacts of an impending storm, the White House has decided its best strategy is to keep its distance from people on the ground. That way if anything goes wrong, the White House can 'attack, attack, attack.' We began to see some of these attacks over the weekend. Sunday's Washington Post cited an anonymous Bush administration official who explained that one reason that the federal government didn't intervene more quickly in Louisiana was because Kathleen Blanco, the state's Democratic governor, failed to declare a state of emergency there, a necessary step for federal help to flow. An article in Newsweek repeats the same claim. But there's a problem with the White House's excuse: It's patently false. As Josh Marshall points out, Blanco declared a state of emergency on Aug. 26 -- a day before Bush declared a federal emergency in Louisiana. ...On Aug. 28 -- the day before Katrina made landfall -- Blanco followed her declaration with an official letter to Bush that requested all manner of emergency supplies her state would need for the aftermath."
The article continues: "The Bush administration's distance from local disaster-relief officials is by design. From the moment Bush stepped into office, he's been determined to move away from the coordinated state/local/federal disaster-relief approach used by Clinton. Instead, as Joe Allbaugh, Bush's first FEMA dirctor, told a congressional panel in 2001, Bush wanted to pull the federal government out of the disaster-relief business and aimed to 'restore the predominant role of state and local response to most disasters.' The federal government became even less involved in natural disaster relief after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when FEMA's mission was shifted toward responding to terrorist attacks. In 2002, Congress created the Department of Homeland Security, and FEMA -- which Clinton had elevated to a Cabinet-level agency -- was made one department in the massive bureaucracy. As a result, although George W. Bush has a nickname for FEMA director Brown...Brown enjoys far less clout under Bush than Witt enjoyed under Clinton, which Haddow says is an 'incalculable loss of influence' for FEMA. State and local disaster-relief officials have been complaining about the lack of federal involvement in emergency response for some time. Trina Sheets, the executive director of the National Emergency Management Association, which represents local emergency personnel, told Salon that 'since the Department of Homeland Security was established there has been a steady degradation of the capabilities.' Local officials protested earlier this year, when the Department of Homeland Security proposed an internal reorganization that would officially absolve FEMA of its disaster-preparedness functions and instead hand disaster relief to a new agency. Sheets says that her group has expressed its 'concern' about the move in a meeting with Chertoff. Other local disaster-relief directors have been more critical. The day after Katrina struck New Orleans, Eric Holdeman, director of the King County, Washington, Office of Emergency Management, wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post denouncing the reorganization plan as a 'a death blow to an agency that was already on life support.' He added: 'Those of us in the business of dealing with emergencies find ourselves with no national leadership and no mentors.'"
As others have observed, FEMA's failure was not an oversight, or even directly due to incompetence. It was the response planned and executed by the Bush administration, which does not believe that the federal government should have a leading role in disaster relief and recovery. Not that the administration will admit it. When Bush declared a state of emergency in Louisiana on the Saturday before Katrina struck the Gulf, he made a promise to residents that he would respond. Haddow says. "People died because they couldn't get it right. People died because they didn't deliver on their promise."
One of the administration's biggest targets is New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin. On September 11, Nagin had this to say, to NBC's Tim Russert, about his own culpability in the disaster: "You know, I'm sure I could have done a lot of things much better, but I will tell you this, Tim: I was there. I was among the people in the Superdome. I knew what was going on every minute. I did not have air conditioning nor shower facilities. I made decisions based upon facts and not what I thought was going to happen. So history will judge me based upon those actions. But I will tell you something: I think I did everything possible known to any mayor in the country as it relates to saving lives. And I think as this continues to unfold, history will say that we did some things to save thousands and thousands of lives. Now, could we have done things better? Absolutely." When asked what his biggest mistake was, he replied, "My biggest mistake is having a fundamental assumption that in the state of Louisiana, with an $18 billion budget, in the country of the United States that can move whole fleets of aircraft carriers across the globe in 24 hours, that my fundamental assumption was get as many people to safety as possible, and that the cavalry would be coming within two to three days, and they didn't come." Nagin goes on to say that his evacuation plan for New Orleans depended on getting residents who lived below sea level to higher ground, where they could be evacuated by state and federal efforts: "Keep in mind, we always assume that after two to three days the cavalry will be coming." He also denies reports that New Orleans turned down offers to evacuate residents from Amtrak: "I don't know where that's coming from. Amtrak never contacted me to make that offer. As a matter of fact, we checked the Amtrak lines for availability, and every available train was booked, as far as the report that I got, through September. So I'd like to see that report."
"[T]here is a lot of talk right now about accountability. Some argue we should have the discussion today, while others argue that that discussion should wait for a more propitious time. But there is a danger in waiting, for a governmental status quo has talent for co-opting criticism as long as it can buy enough time. Passions cool; memories become revised and faded. Six months after a disaster, the government appoints an independent commission to find out what really happened but by the time the commission releases its final report, there is never much sense that too many people are listening. The people are exhausted by then; they're trying their best to move on. And the status quo knows this; that's part of its game. Do whatever you want; act horrified and remorseful for a minute whenever too much suffering results as a part of your actions; then put off the accountability conversation until people are too tired to care anymore." -- Marianne Williamson
On the September 8 edition of Fox News's Hannity and Colmes talk show, right-wing hate maven Ann Coulter continued to peddle the lie that no one anticipated the breach of the New Orleans levees. When co-host Alan Colmes cited President Bush's claim, made during a September 1 interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer, that he "didn't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees," Coulter interjected: "That's manifestly true." But after Colmes objected to her assertion, Coulter admitted she actually did not know "what the details are about this." She also piled on to co-host Sean Hannity's claim that "prominent Democrats" had "politicized" the disaster in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast by complaining: "MoveOn.com [actually MoveOn.org] is down protesting outside the White House today. How about putting together some evacuee bags? How about actually helping out?" Coulter either didn't know or didn't care that MoveOn.org has mounted a huge national emergency housing drive that so far has secured over 250,000 beds for those left homeless by the storm and flood.
Justice Department e-mails indicate that the Bush administration is trying to find evidence of environmentalist opposition to reconstruction of New Orleans's levees, in an attempt to blame environmental groups for the failure of the levees to withstand the hurricane. The Justice Department sent out this e-mail to US attorneys: "Has your district defended any cases on behalf of the [U.S.] Army Corps of Engineers against claims brought by environmental groups seeking to block or otherwise impede the Corps work on the levees protecting New Orleans? If so, please describe the case and the outcome of the litigation." Shown a copy of the email, David Bookbinder, senior attorney for the Sierra Club, said, "Why are they [Bush administration officials] trying to smear us like this?" The Sierra Club and other environmental groups had nothing to do with the flooding that resulted from Hurricane Katrina that killed hundreds, he said. "It's unfortunate that the Bush administration is trying to shift the blame to environmental groups," he said. "It doesn't surprise me at all."
It is possible -- not likely, but possible -- that for some media outlets, the gloves may finally be coming off. NBC's Brian Williams made such a prediction on September 11 after witnessing a string of outraged reporters and anchors on TV and in the press openly challenge Bush officials' lies and misstatements. "By dint of the fact that our country was hit we've offered a preponderance of the benefit of the doubt over the past couple of years," he said. "Perhaps we've taken something off our fastball and perhaps this is the story that brings a healthy amount of cynicism back to a news media known for it." Williams has been quite blunt in his own criticism of the federal government's response to the Katrina disaster.
The other side of the blame game is, of course, cover your backside. To this end, the mainstream media is invaluable in deflecting blame away from the Bush administration. Here are some selected examples of the so-called liberal media plugging away to cover Bush's uncaring behind.
CNN, others fall into adminstration line within days: While other media outlets were quick to echo the administration's line that nothing it had done was worthy of criticism, for days CNN gave plenty of airtime to the realities of the situation, printing a full transcript of Mayor Ray Nagin's impassioned September 2 radio interview, reporting that secret meetings between congressional Republicans fixed the blame for the situation squarely on the White House, and first revealing the horrific conditions at the Superdome and convention center. But on September 8, it reversed course, exemplified by anchor Kyla Phillips's sudden attack on House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi for continuing to criticize FEMA, disapproving of Pelosi "continuing to criticize the administration, and criticize the director of FEMA... I think it's unfair that FEMA is just singled out. There are so many people responsible for what has happened in the state of Louisiana." Pelosi refused to roll over and play dead, instead snapping, "I'm sorry that you think it's unfair. But I don't. ...If you want to make a case for the White House, you should go on their payroll." Four days later CNN's parent, Time Warner, announced that it had hired Tom DeLay's former chief of staff as one of its top lobbyists, prompting Jeff Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy to say, "Time Warner aligning itself with the right-wing DeLay machine should send shudders [down] CNN and HBO. Clearly, TW wants DeLay insurance so it won't have to face cable-ownership safeguards, a la carte rules and broadband non-discrimination policies."
Los Angeles Weekly reporter Nikki Finke wrote, "For the first 120 hours after Hurricane Katrina, TV journalists were let off their leashes by their mogul owners, the result of a rare conjoining of flawless timing (summer's biggest vacation week) and foulest tragedy (America's worst natural disaster). All of a sudden, broadcasters narrated disturbing images of the poor, the minority, the aged, the sick and the dead, and discussed complex issues like poverty, race, class, infirmity and ecology that never make it on the air in this swift-boat/anti-gay-marriage/Michael Jackson media-sideshow era. So began a perfect storm of controversy. Contrary to the scripture so often quoted in these areas of Louisiana and Mississippi, the TV newscasters knew the truth, but the truth did not set them free. Because once the crisis point had passed, most TV journalists went back to business-as-usual, their choke chains yanked by no-longer-inattentive parent-company bosses who, fearful of fallout from fingering Dubya for the FEMA f*ckups, decided yet again to sacrifice community need for corporate greed. Too quickly, Katrina's wake was spun into a web of deceit by the Bush administration, then disseminated by the Big Media boys' club. (Karl Rove spent the post-hurricane weekend conjuring up ways to shift blame.)" Finke blames parent companies like CNN's Time Warner and NBC's GE for tightening down the clamps.
She continued, "[I]t comes as no surprise that, as early as that first Saturday, certainly by Sunday, inevitably by Monday, and no later than Tuesday, the post-Katrina images and issues were heavily weighted once again toward the power brokers and the predictable. The angry black guys were gone, and the lying white guys were back, hogging all the TV airtime. So many congressional Republicans were lined up on air to denounce the 'blame-Bush game' -- all the while decrying the Louisiana Democrats-in-charge -- that it could have been conga night at the Chevy Chase Country Club. And the attitudes of some TV personalities did a dramatic 180. At MSNBC, right-winger Joe Scarborough had looked genuinely disgusted for a few days by the death and destruction that went unrelieved around him in Biloxi, even daring to demand answers from Bush on down. But Scarborough was back to his left-baiting self in short order.
"Inside FNC's studio, conservative crank Sean Hannity had been rendered somewhat speechless by the tragedy. Soon, he was back in full voice, barking at Shep Smith (who was still staking out that I-10 bridge and sympathizing with its thousands of refugees) to keep 'perspective.' The Mississippi-bred Smith boomed back in his baritone, 'This is perspective!' FNC's Bill O'Reilly, who spent last month verbally abusing the grieving mother of a dead Iraqi war soldier, then whiled away the early days of Katrina's aftermath giving lip to New Orleans' looters and shooters, eventually blamed the hurricane's poorest victims for creating their situations and for even expecting any government help at all. On NBC, Meet the Press host Tim Russert cut off Jefferson Parish's Andre Broussard during one of TV's most moving and memorable outpourings of emotion. Instead, to fill up airtime, Russert let Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour praise Bush's response ad nauseam without reading back Barbour's sharp criticism of the feds days earlier. On MSNBC, Hardball's hard-brained Chris Matthews chided viewers and guests alike not to talk about who's to blame -- unless it was Louisiana Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco or Mayor Nagin. Interesting how Barbour's state was also dehydrated and starving, but nobody on TV news blamed him, since he just happens to be a former chairman of the Republican National Committee. And Don Imus skewered Dubya's 'disgusting performance' at the start of his MSNBC TV show (simulcast on the Viacom/CBS-owned Infinity radio network) and then turned over just 24 hours later, directing blame at Mayor Nagin."
Washington Post lies about Blanco's declaration of emergency: The Washington Post parrots the Bush administration's lie that as of September 3, Louisiana governor Blanco had not declared a state of emergency. In reality, Blanco declared a state of emergency on August 26, two days before Katrina made landfall. The paper quietly issued a correction hours later. The Post admitted that its source for the story was "an unnamed adminstration official." In the otherwise scathing Newsweek article "The Lost City," the author writes that Blanco "seemed hesitant" and unwilling to take action. The source for that information? Where else but another unnamed administration official? Though the paper did retract the administration-provided lie, they failed to acknowledge their own egregrious unprofessionalism in repeating the lie to begin with. The Daily Kos's Armando asks the reporters involved, "[H]ave you guys heard of Google? How about a telephone? It would have taken you all of 10 seconds to check that fact. Or better yet, did you have any state officials as sources for your story? And if not, why not? Were you just doing stenography for BushCo? Finally, why would you need a source to go anonymous on a fact that was a matter of public record? The point is simple -- this was horrendously bad journalism. The fact that Blanco DID declare a state of emergency was central to the story. The fact she DID declare a state of emergency completely undermined the story. [Why not follow up with a story asking] how is it that a high BushCo official did NOT know that Blanco had declared a state of emergency. Is that not scandalous in and of itself? Do you think THAT merits a story? Or is it too embarrassing for you now?"
Washington Post lies to cover Bush's failures: In two separate instances, the Washington Post, often misidentified as a "liberal" news outlet, lied to polish Bush's image. The first came on September 8, when the Post falsely reported that "the Bush administration's funding requests for the key New Orleans flood-control projects for the past five years were slightly higher than the Clinton administration's for its past five years," a claim that was subsequently picked up in a September 9 Post column by Charles Krauthammer and by Fox News host Brit Hume on the "Grapevine" segment of the September 8 edition of Special Report with Brit Hume. In fact, the Clinton administration's budgets for 1996-2000 requested many times more money for the Lake Pontchartrain Hurricane Protection program that the Post referenced than the Bush administration did for fiscal years 2002-2006, and Clinton also proposed significantly more federal money for other key flood-control projects in New Orleans and budgeted more money for the New Orleans district of the Army Corps of Engineers. The second example came the next day, in a September 9 article noting that the Bush administration made patronage appointments of officials "lacking disaster experience" to top positions in the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), including FEMA director Michael Brown, the Post reported that such appointments "are nothing new to Washington administrations." True enough, but the Post failed to note that, although they may have gone to individuals with connections to the Clinton administration, the top positions in FEMA during that time were given to officials with experience and expertise in emergency management. The St. Petersburg Times adds, "since it was created more than two decades ago by President Jimmy Carter, FEMA has usually been led by a political appointee and not a career emergency manager. That changed when President Bill Clinton revamped the agency and hired James Lee Witt, the former Arkansas emergency service chief. But when Clinton left, so did Witt, and Bush replaced him with [political crony Joe] Allbaugh."
CNN piles on with Bush "blame game" strategy: Within hours of one another on September 6, CNN reporters Miles O'Brien and Carol Costello echoed the Bush administration's line about refusing to assess blame: "Not a great time for finger pointing is it?" asked O'Brien; hours later, anchor Costello said, "When you hear it's not the right time to point the finger, doesn't that seem reasonable?" Personally, I'd say it was reasonable to expect CNN's reporters to do their jobs and stop echoing administration talking points.
Red Cross officials improperly blame Blanco for hampering rescue efforts: Fox News and other right-wing newspaper outlets couldn't wait to announce that American Red Cross president and CEO Marsha Evans said that Louisiana state homeland security officials blocked Red Cross efforts to enter New Orleans to deliver food, water, and other critical provisions to victims of Hurricane Katrina because the state officials did not want to provide an incentive for people to stay in the city. But, it turns out that the Red Cross officials who were initially deprived access to New Orleans were asked not to enter because of unsafe conditions, that the state made a request instead of imposing a ban as originally reported, and that FEMA, not the state of Louisiana, has the ultimate authority to decide whether or not to permit Red Cross workers into the city. While no direct evidence of Red Cross officials' complicity with the Bush administration's efforts to shift the blame away from federal authorities onto state and local officials exists, Evans is known to be a contributor to Republican campaigns, and Red Cross chairman Bonnie McElveen-Hunter has donated more than $100,000 to Republican candidates and political committees since 1999. President Bush appointed McElveen-Hunter ambassador to Finland in 2001, a position she held until 2003.
Media pushes "bus" story: The lie about "2000 buses going unused" has become a staple of right-wing criticism of New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin. The truth is that New Orleans only owns 364 buses, and 70 of those are disabled. But conservative news outlets such as Fox and the Washington Times have lined up to hammer Nagin with this misplaced criticism; worse, more mainstream outlets such as ABC have joined in.
"Did the US government think urgently to send in buses before the storm hit and the levees broke, in order to evacuate the other [victims]? Of course not." -- Immanuel Wallerstein
O'Reilly wishes flood waters had destroyed UN building: On his September 14 radio show, Fox News host Bill O'Reilly publicly wished that Hurricane Katrina had flooded the United Nations building in New York. O'Reilly then added: "And I wouldn't have rescued them." Way to show some sensitivity, Bill.
Fox News deliberately misreports federal authority: As just one example of an overarching pattern of denial and lies featured in the mainstream media, Fox News reported on September 19 that FEMA and the federal government had no authority to supersede state and local officials in responding to Katrina. During Fox's Special Report with Brit Hume, Fox White House correspondent Wendell Goler reported that White House senior adviser Karl Rove may have admitted during a recent private appearance that "it was a mistake for the federal government not to override local authority," but Goler falsely added that "privately, authorities admit the federal government has no such authority." In fact, federal officials had clear authority under the Department of Homeland Security's National Response Plan to supersede state and local officials in responding to catastrophic events. Washington Post columnist and Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer echoed Goler's falsehood later during a panel discussion segment on Special Report, wrongly claiming the federal government "didn't have it [authority] at the time."
Tim Russert unfairly attacks Aaron Broussard's credibility: On September 4, Jefferson Parish president Aaron Broussard accused FEMA and the federal government of numerous attempts to interfere with local rescue attempts, including FEMA's disruption of communication lines (by physically cutting the lines), FEMA's refusal to allow Wal-Mart delivery trucks full of water to enter the city, and FEMA's blocking of the Coast Guard's attempt to provide fuel to refugees. Broussard finished his fiery interview with Russert, on Meet the Press, with a tragic story of the death of the mother of one of Broussard's colleagues while waiting to be rescued from a nursing home. Three weeks later, Russert has Broussard back on his show and immediately accuses him of lying about the story of the woman's death -- it seems right-wing bloggers have determined that Broussard was in error about the date of the woman's death. As reported below in the timeline section of this site, Broussard is infuriated by Russert's attempt to portray him as a liar. After Russert tries to interrogate Broussard on why the parish president blames the federal government for the failure to respond to Katrina and not state and local officials, as the Bush administration asserts, Broussard lashes back. Broussard demands to know "what kind of agenda is going on here?" and demands to know "what kind of sick-minded, black-hearted person would nit-pick the death of a man's mother."
He tells Russert that "Congress can do an investigation and burn witches. The media can burn witches, they are great at that," and offers to come on to Russert's show and debate anyone. He says, "Wind me up with a good nights sleep, I haven't had one in 30 days, and I will come on your show and debate anyone." He also says it is sick for someone with a cup of coffee and a flushing toilet to take the time to watch his interview and nit-pick his statements about the death of a man's mother. Interestingly, while Russert tries, and fails, to portray Broussard as a hysteric by playing selected portions of the September 4 interview, Russert does not replay the portion of the interview where Broussard said that FEMA came in and cut off his emergency communication lines. He does not replay the part of the tape where Broussard said Sheriff Harry Lee restored the communications lines and posted armed guards on them to prevent FEMA from cutting the lines again. He does not replay the portion of Broussard's previous interview where Broussard tells the nation that FEMA turned away three Wal-Mart trucks full of water en route to Jefferson Parish. He also does not replay Broussard telling the story of the Coast Guard offering fuel, but when people from Jefferson Parrish showed up to get the fuel the Coast Guard told them that FEMA had instructed them not to give them the fuel. (The full transcript of the current interview is here; the transcript of the original interview can be found above.) It is plain why Russert attempts to discredit Broussard by focusing on one minor error in Broussard's original interview but leaves out the most damning part of Broussard's case against the federal government -- Russert is, once again, carrying water for the Bush administration. As blogger "Karena" writes, "Tim Russert should wallow in shame and admit his entire story was designed to prop up Bush at the expense of Aaron Broussard and a dead woman."