ABC's Elizabeth Vargas Attacks Gulf Coast Official as Ignorant for Criticizing Oil Spill Response

Good Morning America's Elizabeth Vargas on Friday played defense for the White House, suggesting that a Gulf Coast official might be ignorant for attacking Obama's response to the oil spill as slow. Vargas huffed, "President Obama said in his news conference yesterday, that, quote, 'Those who think we were slow in our response or our response lacked urgency don't know the facts.'" [Audio available here.]

She complained to Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser, "Do you think he was talking about you?" It didn't seem to occur to Vargas how insulting that might sound, given that Nungesser is on the ground in Louisiana.

Noting that the Parish president has previously called Coast Guard Commander Thad Allen "a national embarrassment," Vargas interrogated, "He is the President's man in charge down there on the scene. How can you say the President is handling this emergency okay, but his man in charge is not?"

In a previous segment, reporter Jake Tapper told the GMA guest host that the White House wants to convince America "that [Obama] is on the case. The federal government is on the case. And they are doing everything they possibly could do. That's the goal at any rate..."

Certainly, Vargas appeared to be doing her best by touting Obama and his administration's response.

A transcript of the May 28 segment, which aired at 7:09am EDT, follows:

ELIZABETH VARGAS: One Gulf Coast leader who has been sounding the alarm about the ecological disaster and the efforts to limit the damage, is Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser. And he joins us from the Louisiana Gulf Coast this morning. Mr. Nungesser, good morning.

BILLY NUNGESSER: Good morning.

VARGAS: First of all, the President is coming to Louisiana today. What do you want to hear him say? And what do you want to tell him?

NUNGESSER: I want him to say that they're doing everything physically possible to keep this oil from destroying our wetlands. That's all we've been asking from the beginning. We need to put the barrier islands- We need to have teams ready to go out and pick up the oil that gets by those islands. But, we need to do everything physically possible. And if we could get somebody to say that, mean it and do it, we can win this battle.

VARGAS: President Obama said in his news conference yesterday, that, quote, "Those who think we were slow in our response or our response lacked urgency don't know the facts." Do you think he was talking about you?

NUNGESSER: Well, I'll tell you this: I know the facts. I'm on the ground here. And there was no response early. Now, whether that's BP, the Coast Guard. I don't think the President knew what was going on. And there was a block between him and what was really going on 'cause when he was here, he got our strike teams and the Jack Up boats approved. The Coast Guard didn't think it was a good idea. He told them to do it. I'm hoping today, he will do the same thing.

VARGAS: But, you have called Coast Guard Commander Thad Allen a quote, "a national embarrassment." He is the President's man in charge down there on the scene. How can you say the President is handling this emergency okay, but his man in charge is not?

NUNGESSER: Well, I'd have to look the President in the eye, 'cause I don't think he was getting the full story from the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard, early on, did not have an idea how to respond to this. And neither did BP. We've seen a lot of equipment moved here in the last two days. And we really appreciate that. But it's going to take an organization. And it's going to take delegating authority to get something done. And we are hoping that comes soon.

VARGAS: You had promised that today you would commandeer and risk arrest by commandeering a flotilla of boats to go out on your own and skim the oil and build a protective to build a protective sand berm. Commander Allen has approved the building of the sand berm. Is that enough for you? Does that satisfy you?

NUNGESSER: Well, I am getting mixed signals. Yesterday, Allen sent a bunch of people to my office and told me, that everything permitted was moving forward. Then, I got a call from the governor's office, and said they were asked to pay for it all, except for one reach. So, I'll have to find out what's going on.

VARGAS: So, does this mean you won't be going out there today?

NUNGESSER: We're actually applying for emergency permits. And we'll move equipment over the weekend. And we'll do some berms, starting on Monday. My council gave me $1 million to get started. We will move forward with that project. It will complement what they're saying they're going to do. But we have to see what's really going to happen.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org