NBC's Myers Torpedoes Olbermann's Bush Attack, But He Doesn't Notice

For the second consecutive night, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann, citing recently released videotape of Bush administration officials meeting before Hurricane Katrina struck, questioned the honesty of Bush's September statement that nobody "anticipated the breach of the levees," claiming that the possibility of a "breach" had been talked about during the videotaped meeting. But also on this second night, the Countdown host ran a story filed by NBC's Lisa Myers in which she torpedoed Olbermann's claim, citing meteorologist Max Mayfield's recollection that "nobody talked about the possibility of levee breach or failure until after it happened." Olbermann, evidently not noticing this, continued as if her report had supported his attack on Bush rather than disproved it. Guest Dana Milbank of the Washington Post even followed up by directly referring to Myers' report as evidence of Bush's "credibility" being undermined, even though Myers clearly argued in her piece that Bush's version of the story was supported by her investigation. Milbank: "It undermines the President's credibility, and now people are getting at this question of his honesty and his secrecy." (Complete transcripts follow)

On the Wednesday March 1 Countdown, Olbermann teased the show: "Video of the government-wide Katrina briefing, the one from August 28th, the day before the hurricane hit New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, the one in which the President is warned that the levees could be breached four days before he told the American public no one could have anticipated that the levees could be breached."

Olbermann opened the show trumpeting the fresh evidence the Countdown host believed contradicted Bush's public statements: "Good evening. Six months to the day after Hurricane Katrina roared ashore, half a year in which the White House has claimed repeatedly that no one could have anticipated how bad it would be, a wealth of evidence, much of it caught on tape, now revealing that President Bush was indeed fully briefed about the storm's potential and all of the damage it might do."

After hearkening back to the "Nixon tapes," dubbing these the "Bush tapes," Olbermann continued: "The tapes revealing that Mr. Bush and his Homeland Security secretary were warned in no uncertain terms before Katrina hit shore that the storm could breach levees, could risk lives in the New Orleans Superdome, could overwhelm rescuers."

Olbermann then brought aboard Richard Wolffe of Newsweek to further discuss the tapes. The Countdown host couldn't resist another Nixon reference as he concluded the interview wondering if Bush's dishonesty was as bad as the "actual malfeasance or misfeasance": "And again, as we said, as Richard Nixon always said, you can be excused for almost any crime, if you will, or failure or error of omission or commission, but if there is tape of you not doing the job and then afterwards boasting that you have done everything that you could do, that's almost as bad as the actual malfeasance or misfeasance, is it not?"

On the Thursday March 2 Countdown show, Olbermann ran a story by NBC's Lisa Myers, which had already run earlier on the NBC Nightly News, in which Myers played a clip of meteorologist Max Mayfield warning administration officials that flood waters from Katrina posed a risk of the levees being "topped," which Myers accurately distinguished from a "breach" through further discussion with Mayfield: "Today Mayfield told NBC News that he warned only that the levees might be topped, not breached, and that on the many conference calls he monitored, nobody talked about the possibility of a levee breach or failure until after it happened."

Not only did Olbermann fail to correct his own previous confusion of the concepts of "breaching" and "topping" of levees, but later, during an interview with the Washington Post's Dana Milbank, the Countdown host continued on his same theme of Bush being dishonest by posing the question: "Why try to get away with something that, as you point out, clearly was not true when sophisticated tapes existed and were just, sort of, waiting to come out like the new release of network on DVD?"

Even more oddly, Milbank actually cited Myers' report as evidence of two things Bush said publicly not being true, even though Myers explicitly argued that Bush's statement on the levees breaching was not contradictory. Milbank: "It undermines the President's credibility, and now people are getting at this question of his honesty and his secrecy. It appears that two things, as Lisa pointed out, that he said very publicly, turned out not to be true, and he apparently should have clearly from the meeting known that they were not true."

Below are complete transcripts of Olbermann's coverage of the videotape story, from the March 1 and March 2 Countdown shows, with critical portions in bold:

From the March 1 Countdown:

Keith Olbermann, in opening teaser: "Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow? Caught on tape: And it was there all along. Video of the government-wide Katrina briefing, the one from August 28th, the day before the hurricane hit New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, the one in which the President is warned that the levees could be breached four days before he told the American public no one could have anticipated that the levees could be breached. The President shown assuring Louisiana officials everybody was ready."

George W. Bush: "I want to assure the folks at the state level that we are fully prepared."

Olbermann: "And this blockbuster video was handed out to the media the day it was shot. Nobody noticed until now."

Olbermann opened the show: "Good evening. Six months to the day after Hurricane Katrina roared ashore, half a year in which the White House has claimed repeatedly that no one could have anticipated how bad it would be, a wealth of evidence, much of it caught on tape, now revealing that President Bush was indeed fully briefed about the storm's potential and all of the damage it might do. Our fifth story on the Countdown, what may well become known as the 'Bush tapes,' six days worth of videos and transcripts. The irony, the media has had at least one of those tapes all along. The Associated Press getting credit for digging up the full trove. The tapes revealing that Mr. Bush and his Homeland Security secretary were warned in no uncertain terms before Katrina hit shore that the storm could breach levees, could risk lives in the New Orleans Superdome, could overwhelm rescuers. The AP releasing excerpts earlier this evening."

Michael Brown, Former FEMA Director: "Everyone, let's go ahead and get started. It's noon, and we have a lot of business to cover today."

Bush: "I do want to thank the good folks in the offices of Louisiana and Alabama and Mississippi for listening to these warnings and preparing your citizens for this huge storm. I want to assure the folks at the state level that we are fully prepared to not only help you during the storm, but we will move in whatever resources and assets we have at our disposal after the storm to help you deal with the loss of property, and we pray for no loss of life, of course."

Max Mayfield, National Hurricane Center: "So if the really strong winds clip Lake Pontchartrain that's going to pile some of that water from Lake Pontchartrain over on the south side of the lake. I don't think anybody can tell you with any confidence right now whether the levees will be topped or not, but that's obviously a very, very grave concern."

Brown clip #2: "My gut tells me, I told you guys, my gut was that this is a bad one and a big one, and you heard Max's comments. I still feel that way today."

Brown clip #3: "I also heard there's no [audio gap], mandatory evacuations are not taking patients out of hospitals, getting prisoners out of prisons and they're leaving hotels open in downtown New Orleans, so I'm very concerned about that."

Brown clip #4: "As you may or may not know, the Superdome is about 12 feet below sea level, so I don't know what the heck [audio gap], and I also learned about that roof. I don't know whether that roof is designed to withstand a cat 5 hurricane."

Brown clip #5: "Kind of gross here, but I'm concerned about NDMS and medical and demort assets and their ability to respond to a catastrophe within a catastrophe. If I could get some sort of insight into what's going on in that Superdome, I think it would be very, very helpful."

Olbermann: "Heck of a job. In the days after the storm, other evidence revealing federal officials were slow to realize they did not have sufficient resources to deal with the unfolding disaster. And as we mentioned, at least one day of tapes had been there for the taking all along, released by FEMA the day they were recorded, August 28th of last year, a day before the storm hit, a so-called hand-out tape. The Associated Press feeding excerpts out to news organizations on its 24-hour service that day recorded by this network and others that only truly uncovered six months later."

Olbermann: "The evidence flying in the face of what President Bush had said in an ABC News interview only days after the storm hit as well as what he was saying on that network just last night."

Bush, from September 1, 2005: "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees."

Bush, from March 1, 2006: "Here's the problem that happened in Katrina. There was no situational awareness. And that means that we weren't getting good, solid information from people who were on the ground."

Olbermann: "That does not appear to be true. Mr. Bush, some 8,300 miles from the city of New Orleans right now in New Delhi tonight after a surprise stop over in Afghanistan. A safe bet that the controversy will follow the President to India halfway around the globe. Let's call in Newsweek magazine's senior White House correspondent Richard Wolffe, who joins us from Washington. Good evening, Richard."

Richard Wolffe, Newsweek: "Keith, good evening."

Olbermann: "Is it possible at this point to assess the potential impact of these tapes?"

Wolffe: "Well, it's all damaging as this sort of dribbles out, this whole story. You've got to put it in some context, first of all. Before the storm made landfall, the White House and FEMA thought that their duty was to try and get this mandatory evacuation through New Orleans. Once that was complete, essentially they felt that they had discharged their duty. The President spoke on those tapes about moving in assets as quickly as possible, but they weren't pre-positioned. They weren't ready to move. They weren't ready to come in right behind the storm. And that was a huge problem in the delay in cleaning up afterwards. So that's one problem he has. The second problem is, you know, there are e-mails coming out now, reports, transcripts, which clearly show that when the levees were breached, in spite of all these warnings, in spite of all this discussion, it didn't register with the White House. The White House official dealing with it simply left his post at 10 p.m. the day after the storm landed and basically went to bed. Nobody thought that it was worth finding out whether the reports were true or not. So all of these things really raise very troubling questions about whether they basically just thought the job was done way too early."

Olbermann: "A third one, the post-Katrina spin about how the White House responded seems to be largely contradicted, erased if you will, by what we just heard on a minute and a half or two minutes of that tape. What kind of impact is that going to have on this government's credibility at this point?"

Wolffe: "I don't know that they can take too much more of a hit. I mean, this has already pushed the President's ratings down as far as they've ever been. And the fact that they've gone down to where they were after Katrina again, it just tells you this administration is really sort of bumping along the bottom now in the polls. But there are serious questions about competence. You know, one of the interesting patents here is that basically the White House said in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane, 'We don't do operational stuff, it's up to the state and local folks,' who've made many of their own mistakes. They've made plenty of mistakes. But this is something they also said about Iraq. We don't do operational things. And when the President talks about situational awareness, again that's one of the problems we've seen in Iraq. Does the President get a full report or does he find out basically far too late in the day?"

Olbermann: "Today we seem to have what is either an incredible coincidence about this or an incredibly swift spin response. About an hour after the AP story about the video, suddenly there is a transcript of a conference call from August 29th, the day that the storm actually hit. Your Web site, Newsweek.com, says the source that they got it from, White House officials. In the transcript, the FEMA director, Mr. Brown, said he talked to the President twice, that day, the day it hit describing Mr. Bush as very engaged, on top of things. But are these the same documents that the White House had claimed it could not release to the Senate hearings about Katrina?"

Wolffe: "They are, and that's a troubling thing. I mean, it's a bit like the Scooter Libby case. The documents seem to pop up. There are plenty of people working on document production, by the way, in the White House. Some of them were distracted from the Harriet Miers nomination because they were producing documents. So, you know, it's troubling that they're coming out in this way. It's also obviously a bad, from the White House's own PR perspective. But more importantly, it shows, look, on the day I can understand there was confusion, but the President and his senior aides didn't say, 'Hold on a minute. We can't even reach the mayor of New Orleans. We need communications. We need to get a real report of what's going on.' Instead they just said, 'Well, it's kind of confusing. Let's wait and see what happens.' And those delays in those first few hours were really critical. Again, they don't deserve all the blame, but in a problem of this magnitude, they really had a special responsibility."

Olbermann: "And again, as we said, as Richard Nixon always said, you can be excused for almost any crime, if you will, or failure or error of omission or commission, but if there is tape of you not doing the job and then afterwards boasting that you have done everything that you could do, that's almost as bad as the actual malfeasance or misfeasance, is it not?"

Wolffe: "Well, there is this credibility incompetence question that is hovering around the President and his senior aides right now, which is affecting everything from his personal favorability ratings to his job approval, and it feeds into many other problems the administration has in terms of its agenda moving forward. So yeah, the tape is a problem. Pictures are always a problem."

From the March 2 Countdown:

Keith Olbermann: "Good evening. To our knowledge, there is nobody actually named Katrina Bush, nobody, at least, famous enough to pop up through a cursory search. But if she's out there, what marketing possibilities there are for her tonight. Our fifth story in the Countdown, Katrina Bush: More shocking video. Tonight, reaction from the two men other than the President, who can be heard speaking on the tapes, outrage on Capitol Hill and a new video. But for those who may have missed it, we begin with another look at the original tape from August 28th of last year, uncovered again yesterday, the one that kicked off the controversy: What did President Bush know of the storm and when did he know it?"

Michael Brown, Former FEMA Director: "Everyone, let's go ahead and get started. It's noon, and we have a lot of business to cover today."

Bush: "I do want to thank the good folks in the offices of Louisiana and Alabama and Mississippi for listening to these warnings and preparing your citizens for this huge storm. I want to assure the folks at the state level that we are fully prepared to not only help you during the storm, but we will move in whatever resources and assets we have at our disposal after the storm to help you deal with the loss of property, and we pray for no loss of life, of course."

Max Mayfield, National Hurricane Center: "So if the really strong winds clip Lake Pontchartrain that's going to pile some of that water from Lake Pontchartrain over on the south side of the lake. I don't think anybody can tell you with any confidence right now whether the levees will be topped or not, but that's obviously a very, very grave concern."

Brown clip #2: "My gut tells me, I told you guys, my gut was that this is a bad one and a big one, and you heard Max's comments. I still feel that way today."

Brown clip #3: "I also heard there's no [audio gap], mandatory evacuations are not taking patients out of hospitals, getting prisoners out of prisons and they're leaving hotels open in downtown New Orleans, so I'm very concerned about that."

Brown clip #4: "As you may or may not know, the Superdome is about 12 feet below sea level, so I don't know what the heck [audio gap], and I also learned about that roof. I don't know whether that roof is designed to withstand a cat 5 hurricane."

Brown clip #5: "Kind of gross here, but I'm concerned about NDMS and medical and demort assets and their ability to respond to a catastrophe within a catastrophe. If I could get some sort of insight into what's going on in that Superdome, I think it would be very, very helpful."

Olbermann: "The President has yet to comment on the tapes, though they've been out there now for more than 24 hours. He is safely removed from this controversy by a distance of some 7,500 miles. He's in India tonight. Not so, the Democrats on Capitol Hill. The minority leaders of both chambers expressing their outrage."

Harry Reid, Senate Minority Leader: "They have systematically misled the American people to hide the basic incompetence of the recovery and the response. And as a result of this, it's made America less safe, not more safe."

Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader clip #1: "That video further points to the need for an independent commission."

Pelosi, clip #2: "The video is an eloquent statement, speaks very clearly to the fact that there was a predictable tragedy that was about to befall the people of that region, and the administration's response was inadequate."

Olbermann: "And then there is the man with the most to benefit apparently from these tapes, former FEMA director Michael Brown, who seems, at least on videotape to have done if not a heck of a job, at least a pretty good one after all. Tonight, Mr. Brown telling NBC News that the tapes speak for themselves."

Brown: "My criticism has always been to what was occurring prior to Katrina making landfall. I couldn't get anyone's attention about how serious this disaster was going to be, and I think the tapes are clear that I was expressing that warning from at least 72 hours before it made landfall."

Olbermann: "Oddly enough, after months of video silence, tapes are coming out of the wood work like a previously-owned sale at a Blockbuster. Within hours of the news of the Associated Press collection from the day before Katrina hit, there were transcripts. Newsweek says they came from Bush administration officials of the meetings the day that it did hit, ones that made the President look much better. And this morning the videotapes of those August 29th meetings mysteriously appeared after months of being unavailable or not known to exist or sorry, somebody else has rented them. In a moment, Dana Milbank of the Washington Post reviews the first-season video release and today's conveniently timed follow-up second-season release. First, the special 'making of the video' video from our chief investigative correspondent Lisa Myers."

Lisa Myers: "NBC News has now obtained the videotape of a key private meeting between federal and state officials on Monday, August 29th, the day Katrina hit. Though Michael Brown has been critical of the President, the tape shows Brown praising the President that day, saying they'd already talked twice."

Michael Brown: "He's asking questions about reports of breaches. He's asking about hospitals. He's really engaged asking a lot of really good questions."

Myers: "Yet, Brown told Brian Williams last week that he repeatedly and emphatically warned how bad Katrina would be, but no one listened."

Brown: "I want to jam up supply lines. I want to cut the bureaucratic red tape. I want it 'balls to the wall,' was the phrase that I used, in doing everything we could."

Myers: "Tapes and transcripts don't reflect that colorful expression, but Brown does repeatedly sound the alarm and push for action. Sunday:"

Brown: "My gut tells me, I told you guys my gut was that this is a bad one and a big one."

Myers: "Monday:"

Brown: "I want everyone to recognize, and I know I'm preaching to the choir of everybody here, how serious the situation remains."

Myers: "As for the President, on Thursday, September 1st, four days after Katrina hit, he said this:"

George W. Bush: "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees."

Myers: "On a conference call which President Bush participated in as Katrina approached, hurricane expert Max Mayfield said this:"

Max Mayfield: "I don't think anybody can tell you with any confidence right now whether the levees will be topped or not, but that's obviously a very, very grave concern."

Myers: "Today Mayfield told NBC News that he warned only that the levees might be topped, not breached, and that on the many conference calls he monitored, nobody talked about the possibility of a levee breach or failure until after it happened. In the new tape obtained by NBC from Bush supporters, a senior White House official asked Louisiana Governor Blanco how the levees are holding up."

Governor Kathleen Blanco (D-LA): "We keep getting reports in some places that maybe water is coming over the levees. We've heard a report unconfirmed. I think we've heard that we have not breached the levee. We have not breached the levee at this point in time."

Myers: "We now know that an hour before Blanco's assessment, a FEMA official alerted superiors to reports that at least one levee had failed, information which didn't reach the White House until almost midnight. Lisa Myers, NBC News, New Orleans."

Olbermann: "There is a Kate Bush. Singer. For more now on the political impact of all this, time to call in the Washington Post's Dana Milbank. Good evening, Dana."

Dana Milbank, Washington Post: "Evening, Keith."

Olbermann: "It is a cliche of American politics that if things go toughly for presidents at home, they take a road trip, they travel as far abroad as they can go. This trip to India really seems obviously coincidental, but it seems like it could not have come at a better time. If you are in this White House, is there any hope that this will have all died down by the time the President gets back?"

Milbank: "Well, not really. I mean, people might stop chattering about this particular video. The problem is each one of these things really does its damage. It undermines the President's credibility, and now people are getting at this question of his honesty and his secrecy. It appears that two things, as Lisa pointed out, that he said very publicly, turned out not to be true, and he apparently should have clearly from the meeting known that they were not true. This is some of the things that have been depressing the President's numbers in the polls. You add to that the ports controversy, the trouble in Iraq. Each one of these things knocks him down a bit, and each time he gets up, another wave seems to knock him over."

Olbermann: "These are not the Nixon White House tapes, though. These are things that he should have known were there and had the prospect of coming out. Why try to get away with something that, as you point out, clearly was not true when sophisticated tapes existed and were just, sort of, waiting to come out like the new release of network on DVD?"

Milbank: "Keith, nobody could have anticipated the tapes would be released. They, certainly we didn't anticipate the tapes would be released. Certainly Tom Davis, who just did this exhaustive investigation, now looks a little embarrassed by this whole thing in the House of Representatives."

Olbermann: "But I don't, you know I never interrupt, but, Dana, that first tape from August 28th was sitting in the archives of most of the major news organizations. It had been sent out by FEMA to the Associated Press television service and was sitting in storage rooms at every network in this country."

Milbank: "That is a little embarrassing, isn't it? It's sort of the way the ports controversy exploded after people found out about it 90 days ago, and then it just blows up. Everybody's just waiting for the right moment."

Olbermann: "All right, the new tape, the one from August 29th, the day the storm hit, this is provided to NBC News today, as you heard Lisa Myers say, by supporters of Mr. Bush. It's remarkable how it turned up under the circumstances. What happened to the executive privilege that the White House told the Senate kept it from seeing these tapes or those transcripts from those tapes? Or did these just sort of get out sideways, and the administration knows nothing about it?"

Milbank: "Well, executive privilege is, the administration has defined it as, the privilege to do what the President wishes to do, of course, and that is that he can define whatever point he wants, whatever legal point he wants, but he can violate that if he chooses to. Same thing with the releasing of classified information. It's really up to the President here, and it was in his interest. Now, I don't know your source on this, but certainly when people say 'Republican sources,' that tends to indicate they might be Republicans who actually might even work in the White House."

Olbermann: "Let's say that the White House is 100 percent correct on the breadth of the blame here and that nobody could have anticipated the blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Six months out, things are still so bad along the Gulf Coast, is the administration really trying to make some sort of claim of competency at this point? Or is it an attempt to shift the focus back onto Michael Brown in hopes that it all sticks to him again when, in fact, it looks like his reputation has been rehabilitated to some degree?"

Milbank: "Yeah, the competence question is going to be very difficult in this case because it's ongoing. I mean, we learned today that in New Orleans they're starting again today to search for more dead bodies. 300 to 400 are still missing. They haven't even reclaimed the bodies down there. I don't think any of us thought that we would now be crediting Michael Brown of the Arabian Horse Federation with actually knowing that there were problems with the Superdome's roof, knowing that it was under sea level, warning about the evacuation possibilities and warning about the levees. He has, in a sense, rehabilitated himself, and that's something I think none of us expected."

Olbermann: "As Rodney Dangerfield said in that movie, you want to look thin, hang out with a bunch of fat people. If you want to look better, more competent, hang out with a bunch of people who aren't. Dana Milbank of the Washington Post, no one could have foreseen the release of these tapes, I hope that appears in an article soon."

Milbank: "It's not going to appear in one of mine. I'm keeping an eye out from the Ombudsman."

Olbermann: "Thank you kindly, sir, and best of luck on that."

Brad Wilmouth
Brad Wilmouth is a contributing blogger to NewsBusters