MSNBC's Shuster Versus NBC's Myers: Bush Caught in Lie or Vindicated by Video?

MSNBC versus NBC News. MSNBC's David Shuster, at the top of Thursday's Hardball, and NBC's Lisa Myers at the start of the NBC Nightly News, played the identical soundbites from Max Mayfield of the National Hurricane Center warning, on Sunday August 28, about his “grave concern” the levees in New Orleans could be “topped,” and a clip of President Bush four days later maintaining that "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees." But they used the soundbites to prove opposite assessments. Shuster contended that Mayfield's video “seems to contradict what President Bush said about Katrina” since Mayfield's warning “clearly” means that “the President's team did anticipate the breach.”

Lisa Myers, however, recognized the meaning of words and how water flowing over a levee, topping it, is not the same thing as a breaching, the collapse of a levee, which is what occurred. Myers explained: "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.'” (Transcripts follow.)

Shuster's story first ran at the start of the 5pm EST airing of Hardball, which MSNBC re-ran on tape at 7pm EST. In the Washington, DC market, where the NBC Nightly News runs at 7pm, that meant the two stories ran at the exact same time.

The MRC's Brad Wilmouth provided transcripts of the relevant portion of Shuster's piece and the entirety of the Myers story:

# MSNBC's Hardball. David Shuster:
"It's a videotape that seems to contradict what President Bush said about Katrina. Four days after the storm hit, with most of New Orleans underwater and thousands of people stranded at the Convention Center, the President scrambled to defend the federal government's response."

George W. Bush at the White House, on ABC's Good Morning America, September 1: "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees."

Shuster: "But clearly the President's team did anticipate the breach. This teleconference video from the day before the storm reached New Orleans shows the President was warned the breach was possible, and the tape shows the President's team openly worried about the outcome. Max Mayfield, a leading hurricane expert, warned of massive devastation [brief inaudible sound of Mayfield]. Then, Mayfield directly addressed the reliability of the levees."

Max Mayfield, National Hurricane Center, during August 28 video conference: "I don't think anyone 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."

Shuster: "From his Texas ranch, President Bush tried to reassure local officials that the federal government was ready."

Bush, from his Texas ranch, by video: "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."...

# NBC Nightly News. Anchor Campbell Brown led:
"Good evening. Tonight, a reality check. We are taking 'A Closer Look' at those tapes of meetings between top government officials, both before and after Hurricane Katrina made landfall. With all the finger pointing going on now, it is worth asking whose statements really hold up. NBC News today obtained a new videotape of the conversations that were going on behind the scenes among state and federal officials the day Katrina hit. The tape shows some contradictions between what former FEMA director Michael Brown was saying at the time and what Brown told Brian Williams in a recent interview. We will speak with Brown again in a moment, but first here's NBC's senior investigative correspondent Lisa Myers."
Lisa Myers began:
"NBC News has now obtained the videotape of a key private meeting between federal and state officials on Monday, August 29, 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, audio: "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, in February 24 interview: "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, video from August 28: "My gut tells me, I told you guys my gut was that this is a bad one and a big one."

Myers: "Monday:"

Brown, audio from August 29: "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, on the September 1 Good Morning America: "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, by video in the August 28 video conference: "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), audio from August 29: "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."
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center