Hypocritical Olbermann Delivers Anti-Bush Diatribe Pegged to Chertoff Slip
Full MRC CyberAlert item follows.
During an interview of former NYPD Commissioner Bernard Kerick on the September 6 Countdown, Olbermann queried: "I have to ask you, before we go, a big picture question on the overall emergency response. The House Minority Leader, Mr. DeLay, said today that disaster response is, quote here, 'designed from the ground up,' the implication of that being that whatever the shortcomings of the last week have been, the responsibility began in New Orleans. Do you, with your expertise in this area, agree with that?"
Returning from a subsequent ad break, Olbermann acknowledged his error: "Let me correct and apologize for the verbal typo in the last segment. Tom DeLay is, of course, the House Majority Leader, not the Minority Leader. I'd like to give you a good explanation for it, but there wasn't one. I just kicked it."
He wasn't so forgiving with Chertoff on Monday night. He teased his September 5 program: "And what did the administration know, and when did it know it? The Director of the National Hurricane Center says he warned them -- the head of FEMA, the head of Homeland Security -- that the levees could break. And that head of Homeland Security, did he sum up how well the government handled the crisis with eight words?"
Michael Chertoff, Homeland Security Secretary, at a press briefing: "Louisiana is a city that is largely underwater."
Olbermann: "'Louisiana is a city.' This is Countdown. Good evening. The Director of the National Hurricane Center has told the newspaper 'The New Orleans Times-Picayune' that FEMA director Michael Brown and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff both listened to electronic briefings before Hurricane Katrina, during which the Hurricane Center warned that the storm could overtop the levees or even breach them. 'It's not,' said Dr. Max Mayfield, 'like this was a surprise.' Secretary Chertoff and President Bush both continue to insist it was."
At about 8:40pm EDT, Olbermann unleashed his vitriol, as checked against the video by the MRC's Brad Wilmouth:
Olbermann undermined himself by beginning with the claim that he normally avoids commentary: "This is not typically a newscast of commentary. I can recall only twice previously offering such perspectives. But something that Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff said at his news conference Saturday made this necessary."
Michael Chertoff, Homeland Security Secretary: "Louisiana is a city that is largely underwater."
Olbermann: "Well, there's your problem right there. If ever a slip of the tongue defined a government's response to a crisis. Forget the history of slashed federal budgets for projects that might have saved the levees. Drop the imagery of the government watching 'Monty Python's Flying Circus' while New Orleans drowned. Ignore the symbol of bureaucrats like Mr. Chertoff using only the future tense in terms of relief that they could have supplied last Monday and Tuesday. We no longer need the President sounding like he's on some sort of five-day tape delay to summarize this debacle. We now have Mr. Chertoff's indelible announcement that Louisiana is a city.
"Politician after politician, Republican and Democrat alike, has paraded before us, unwilling or unable to shut off the I/me switch in their heads, condescendingly telling us about how moved they were or how devastated they were, congenitally incapable of telling the difference between the destruction of a city and the opening of a new supermarket somewhere. And as that sorry recital of self-absorption dragged on, I have resisted editorial comment. The focus needed to be on the efforts to save the stranded. Even television's meager powers were correctly devoted to telling the stories of the twin disasters, natural and government-made. But now, at last, it has stopped getting exponentially worse in Mississippi and Alabama and New Orleans and Louisiana -- the state, not the city. And having given our leaders what we now know is the week or so they need to get their acts together, that period of editorial silence I mentioned should come to an end. No one is suggesting that mayors or governors in the afflicted areas, nor the federal government, should be able to stop hurricanes. Lord knows, no one is suggesting that we should ever prioritize levee improvement for a below-sea-level city ahead of $454 million worth of trophy bridges for the politicians of Alaska.
"But, nationally, these are leaders who won reelection last year largely by portraying their opponents as incapable of keeping this country safe. These are leaders who regularly pressure the news media in this country to report the reopening of a school or a power station in Iraq and which regularly defies its citizens not to stand up and cheer when something like that is accomplished. Yet, they couldn't even keep one school or power station from being devastated by infrastructure collapse in New Orleans, even though the government had heard all the chatter from the scientists and city planners and hurricane centers and some group whose purposes the government couldn't quite discern, a group called the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
"Most chillingly of all, this is the 'law-and-order-and-terror government.' It promised protection, or at least amelioration, against all threats -- conventional, radiological or biological. It has just proved that it cannot save its citizens from a biological weapon called 'standing water.' Mr. Bush has now twice insisted that, quote, 'We are not satisfied,' unquote, with the response to the manifold tragedies along the Gulf Coast. I wonder which 'we' he thinks he's speaking for on this point. Perhaps it's the administration, although we still don't know where some of them are. Anybody seen the Vice President lately, the man whose message this time last year was 'I will protect you, the other guy might let you die'?
"I don't know which 'we' Mr. Bush meant. For many of this country's citizens, the mantra has been, as we were taught in social studies it should always be, whether or not I voted for this President, he is still my President. I suspect anybody who had to give him that benefit of the doubt stopped doing so last week. I suspect, also, a lot of his supporters, looking ahead to '08, are wondering how they can distance themselves from the two words which will define his government, our government: New Orleans. For him, it is a shame, in all senses of the word. A few changes of pronouns in there and he might not have looked so much like a 21st century Marie Antoinette. All that was needed was just a quick 'I'm not satisfied with my government's response,' instead of hiding behind phrases like 'No one could have foreseen.' Had he only remembered Churchill's quote from the 1930s. 'The responsibility of government for the public safety,' Churchill said, 'is absolute and requires no mandate. It is, in fact, the prime object for which governments come into existence.' In forgetting that, the current administration did not merely damage itself. It damaged our confidence in our ability to rely on whoever is in the White House.
"As we emphasized to you here all last week, the realities of the region are such that New Orleans is going to be largely uninhabitable for a lot longer than anybody is yet willing to recognize. Lord knows when the last body will be found or the last artifact of the levee break dug up. Could be next March. Could be the year 2100. By then, in the muck and toxic mire of New Orleans, they may even find our government's credibility somewhere in the 'city' of Louisiana."