CBS’s Storm Quotes Barbara Boxer, Who Blamed Wildfires on Iraq

Wednesday’s CBS ‘Early Show’ had a recurring theme in its coverage of the Southern California wildfires: the federal government failed to provide resources. Co-host Harry Smith opened the show by exclaiming that "...a fire chief says it's "the absolute truth," with more air resources, we would have been able to control this." In a later segment of the show, co-host Hannah Storm asked FEMA Administrator David Paulison, "Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer of California complained the ability of the state's National Guard has been compromised because too much of their equipment and personnel is in Iraq. Is that true?"

In addition to Smith’s blame-the-government show intro, he later observed in a report from the fire line that "I'll tell you, resources is a big part of this story...There are just not enough planes, there's not enough people, there's not enough equipment." Smith then sent the coverage to CBS reporter Bill Whitaker, who asked a firefighter if the wildfires could be brought under control, to which the firefighter responded "...if we get the resources..." Whitaker then remarked, " Now, considering how stretched resources are all across Southern California, that is a big "if."

Then came Storm’s interview with Paulison, which she began by declaring that "This massive evacuation is putting a heavy burden on emergency workers..." Storm then went on to accuse FEMA of not providing enough resources to deal with the disaster, "Well, as we've heard, the Chief Chip Prather of the Orange County Fire Authority said it's an "absolute fact" that if we had more air resources we would've been able to control this fire. Why weren't those resources available?"

Paulison explained that water planes were available, but that strong winds made the planes useless, "...when they disperse the fire retardant and the water, it dissipates so quickly that it doesn't, it's not effective." An undeterred Storm brushed aside that fact and pressed Paulison, "But he's actually saying that there were resources that were not made available to them in quick enough time. What's your response to that?"

At that point, Storm decided it was best to quote left-wing Senator Barbara Boxer’s ridiculous claim that, "...the ability of the state's National Guard has been compromised because too much of their equipment and personnel is in Iraq." Paulison’s response to the statement rejected the premise, if ever so politely, "I have not seen that at all, quite frankly, and I know she's right on top of issues, but -- and she does a great job for California. But I've not seen that at all."

At the end of the segment, Storm turned to "Early Show" weatherman, Dave Price, who reported from San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium. She asked Price, "And Dave, you remember back a couple of years, you were at the Superdome in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. How does it compare?" Unlike his colleagues, Price had some good news, "Well, you can't help but compare those two circumstances, but Hannah, much more organized, certainly, and actually, this arena has an air of a mix of social services, a community gathering, and a street fair."

Credit to Dave Price for actually acknowledging the government’s successful response to the wildfires.

Here is the transcript of excerpt’s from this morning’s coverage:

7:00AM TEASER

HARRY SMITH: And a fire chief says it's 'the absolute truth. With more air resources, we would have been able to control this. Early this Wednesday morning, October 24th, 2007.

7:03AM REPORT

SMITH: 7,000 firefighters working round the clock are overwhelmed. Virtually every fire engine in the state, some from 800 miles away, are on hand to do battle. And with all that, there's still not enough help.

FIRE CHIEF CHIP PRATHER: It is an absolute fact, had we had more air resources, we would have been able to control this fire.

CRYING WOMAN: We did what we could, there's just no fire engines here. There's no fire engines. We've got lots of friends, but no fire engines. There's the flames, really big, big flames.

7:05AM REPORT

SMITH: After a special request from Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Department of Defense sent six Air Force and Air National Guard planes to help with the fight. Most of these planes carry about 3,000 gallons of water. A new supertanker, one that carries 21,000 gallons and distributes it over a much wider area, is currently being tested. It's also faster and safer. But it won't be certified in time to fight these devastating wildfires. I'll tell you, resources is a big part of this story as we were with firefighters all night last night. We heard the radio crackling all night long. We need more help over here, we need more help over there. People were trying to take a nap. They woke people up and said we need more help over here. There are just not enough planes, there's not enough people, there's not enough equipment. That's how big this story is. Now, let's go to Bill Whitaker who's in Lake Arrowhead, another place where the fire is burning out of control. Good morning, Bill.

7:08AM REPORT

BILL WHITAKER: Despite the devastation, firefighters were optimistic they can win this battle.

FIREFIGHTER: It's got a lot of potential, but if we get the resources, we'll be able to put it to bed.

WHITAKER: Now, considering how stretched resources are all across Southern California, that is a big if. And this is what they're trying to prevent. It's not just this house here, but down the block, one house after another, after another have been destroyed, and they're trying to keep this from happening throughout this whole area.

7:11AM SEGMENT

HANNAH STORM: This massive evacuation is putting a heavy burden on emergency workers who offer food, supplies, and shelter to evacuees. FEMA Administrator David Paulison is in Los Angeles leading the effort. Good morning.

DAVID PAULISON: Good morning.

STORM: Well, as we've heard, the Chief Chip Prather of the Orange County Fire Authority said it's an absolute fact that if we had more air resources we would've been able to control this fire. Why weren't those resources available?

PAULISON: There is quite a bit of resources on the ground right now. Part of the issue is the winds. The airplanes can fly in the winds, but when they disperse the fire retardant and the water, it dissipates so quickly that it doesn't, it's not effective. We have quite a few air tankers on the ground. There's six more coming in from the National Guard from Northcom. So, we feel like we have a lot of air resources on the ground right now. And hopefully, if this wind will die down this afternoon, we can get those in the air and get these fires under control.

STORM: But he's actually saying that there were resources that were not made available to them in quick enough time. What's your response to that?

PAULISON: Well, I'm not aware of that, obviously, but, you know, California has the best wildland firefighters actually in the world. And they know what they're doing. They will get a handle on this fire. It's just a matter of dealing with the weather right now. The winds are horrendous. The humidity is down in single digits in some cases, and we just need a break with the weather and we can get all the air tankers that are actually on the ground right now, up in the air and get this fire under control.

STORM: Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer of California complained the ability of the state's National Guard has been compromised because too much of their equipment and personnel is in Iraq. Is that true?

PAULISON: I have not seen that at all, quite frankly, and I know she's right on top of issues, but -- and she does a great job for California. But I've not seen that at all. I was just at Qualcomm yesterday and last night, actually. Things are under control. There's plenty of food, there's plenty of water. There's lots of security. I have not seen an issue with the Guard. In fact, they're moving a lot of National Guard on the ground working with Northcom and others to make sure we have the right people here to do the job.

STORM: Alright, FEMA Administrator David PAULISON, you have a huge task. Good luck.

PAULISON: Thank you.

STORM: And time now for our first check of the weather. Dave Price is at Qualcomm stadium in San Diego, that's the largest shelter for fire evacuees. And Dave, you remember back a couple of years, you were at the Superdome in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. How does it compare?

DAVE PRICE: Well, you can't help but compare those two circumstances, but Hannah, much more organized, certainly, and actually, this arena has an air of a mix of social services, a community gathering, and a street fair. As you took a look yesterday as people began to gather in, community organizations came together, the place was filled with baby food and diapers, toys and books, blankets and tents and entertainers alike. In fact, there's even a meditation area here, Southern California style. But keep in mind, people here are worried. They are concerned. They don't know whether when they leave here they're going to go home and find that they have a home or they have lost everything.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC