NPR Uses Joplin's Tea Party Congressman to Gush Over Obama Disaster Relief Team

On Thursday, NPR's Morning Edition used a Republican mayor to boost Obama's push for infrastructure spending. On Friday, the same show displayed a new Tea Party Republican House member representing tornado-ravaged Joplin, Missouri to gush over the effectiveness of the Obama disaster relief team, as if to say "No Katrinas here, America." Janet Napolitano told NPR Long would give them a "12" out of 10.

Liberals have this habit of thinking that disaster relief somehow rebuts "foes of Big Government," or that Tea Party members ran on the promise of abolishing disaster aid. NPR reporter Frank Morris pressed hard on the chastened-anti-statist angle:

STEVE INSKEEP, anchor: The gridlock in Congress over disaster aid affects Joplin, Missouri, which was hit in May by a tornado. The devastated area is represented on Capitol Hill by Congressman Billy Long. He's a Tea Party favorite who won his seat in November as a man fed up with Washington.

BILLY LONG: Fed up with reckless spending. Fed up with the threat to our values.

INSKEEP: Since the tornado, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has spent millions of dollars in the congressman's district. And the spending continues. Congressman Long says that's perfectly appropriate, which is leading to questions about whether he abandoned his Tea Party principles. Frank Morris, of member station KCUR, reports.

FRANK MORRIS: Billy Long is a pretty popular guy in Joplin. Last April he fired up a Tea Party crowd there, pretending to auction off the national debt. Five weeks later, Long was back in Joplin, this time in the dark, and rain, surveying the aftermath of an apocalyptic tornado. And, this time, the federal government was his friend.

LONG: FEMA called as soon as I got there, and said, Congressman Long, we're on the way. We'll have boots on the ground there in an hour or two. And I said, no you won't, they're already here.

MORRIS: What followed, Long says, has been a superb relief effort.

LONG: The president came in. He was great. Janet Napolitano came in, she's been great. And Leader Pelosi came up to me on the floor and hugged me and said anything people in Joplin need they will have.

MORRIS: And that's just what they've gotten. FEMA has spent close to $100 million just on the cleanup, another $19 million plus on rent and home repairs. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was back in Joplin just yesterday, praising Joplin's can do attitude and Congressman Long.

Secretary JANET NAPOLITANO: He's worked well with our office, with our shop. When he was asked about FEMA shortly after the fact, to rank it on a scale of one to 10, he said he would give it a 12.

The Obama campaign really ought to be shelling out cash for advertising like this. But in a sense, it does: it keeps the taxpayer spigot open so the liberal messaging can continue. Morris did get current Tea Party opinion:

MORRIS: This kind of talk doesn't square with some of Long's constituents. Bloggers say he's shredding his Tea Party stripes, drinking the Potomac Kool-Aid. He's portrayed as another politician bellying up to the trough. Perhaps surprisingly, some of this grief for helping tornado-ravaged Joplin, has come from Joplin.

JOHN PUTNAM: Joplin would be, some people would use the phrase, the buckle of the Bible Belt. It's very conservative.


MORRIS: John Putnam leads a Tea Party group in these parts.

PUTNAM: I think the bottom line for most of us, is that we can do it locally.

MORRIS: Putnam says it was volunteers, local folks hit by the tornado, and tens of thousands more streaming in from across the country, many of them evangelical Christians with ties to Joplin's numerous churches, who've done the most of the work. But Putnam, unlike some in the blogosphere, is willing to give Long a pass.

PUTNAM: I think this is the system we operate under, and everybody thinks as long as we're under this system, it's fine for him to try to maximize FEMA's contribution.

What's interesting here is that some local bloggers attacked Long for drinking "Potomac Kool-Aid" before the tornado. In March, "Bungalow Bill" was already unhappy with the smallness of the spending cuts achieved.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis