Eric Lipton’s New York Times article on the congressional investigation into the White House’s initial response to Hurricane Katrina suggests that President Bush was foolhardy in thinking New Orleans had dodged the Katrina bullet on Monday, August 29, a day before the levees broke and plunged the city underwater.
“That night, after the storm passed, a report sent to the White House warned of a quarter-mile breach ‘in the levee near the 17th Street Canal’ and that ‘an estimated 2/3 to 75 percent of the city is underwater.’ Yet Mr. Bush and the homeland security secretary, Michael Chertoff, in interviews after the storm hit, said they never expected the levees to be breached. They said that after the storm had passed Monday, they were convinced that the city had survived without catastrophic damage.
"‘There was a sense of relaxation,’ Mr. Bush said at a news conference in New Orleans on Sept. 12, recounting his reaction. ‘I was listening to people, probably over the airways, say, the bullet has been dodged.’ [Sen. Joe] Lieberman wants to know more about how the White House could have felt it was appropriate to relax.”
And a picture caption reads:
“Investigators are questioning President Bush’s recollection on Sept. 12 that in the hours after the storm it appeared in the city that ‘the bullet has been dodged.’”
Talk about the pot calling the kettle black! The news media (including the Times) was no better informed. The Times ran a story by Joseph Treaster the next day (Tuesday, August 30) with this headline:
“HURRICANE KATRINA: NEW ORLEANS; Escaping Feared Knockout Punch, Barely, New Orleans Is One Lucky Big Mess.”
Treaster seemed to conclude that the city had dodged a bullet:
“Downtown New Orleans and the French Quarter appeared to have been spared as the eye of the powerful storm passed just east of the city. Dire predictions of 20-foot-deep toxic rivers running in the streets and huge buildings coming apart did not materialize….Even with much less destruction than expected, though, the cost of repairs could easily run into the billions. Recovery will take months. Hundreds of thousands of residents lost electricity, city officials said, and it may take weeks for some of them to get it back.”
As far as Bush’s specific “bullet” metaphor, the Times can look toward their media colleagues.
The left-leaning Daily Howler quotes NBC anchor Brian Williams talking to Today show host Matt Lauer on August 29, the morning the storm hit:
“There's no effort to disseminate information. Very few radios and portable televisions, and we're inside, basically, a concrete structure. It's impossible to know. Most of them can sense that the storm has died down, but they don't know that New Orleans dodged the big bullet from -- from Katrina, and didn't get the worst of the storm.”
The Howler also quotes John Burnett on NPR from that same morning:
“Well, I think the best description was -- it was the best eventuality of the worst possible scenario. They dodged the bullet, but they still got a sound bruising.”
For more examples of New York Times bias, visit TimesWatch.