The fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina recalls a horror show on two levels. There’s the actual disaster which killed hundreds of people – and then there’s the media smear job on the Bush administration and first responders. No one should forget pompous grandstanders like “NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams signing off three months after the floods from the Lower Ninth Ward: "This is a neighborhood that's been left to die."
How those network anchors loved hurricane hyperbole! Williams, for one, lectured the nation that the hurricane should “necessitate a national discussion on race, on oil, politics, class, infrastructure, the environment, and more.” He underlined that a top local radio station decided not to air President Bush’s remarks from the city since “nothing he could say could ever help them deal with the dire situation unfolding live in the streets of New Orleans, where people were still dying during his visit."
It never mattered to these nattering nabobs that, as Popular Mechanics magazine documented, Katrina spurred by far the largest and fastest rescue effort in American history, with nearly 100,000 emergency personnel arriving on the scene within three days of the storm's landfall, rescuing an estimated 50,000 residents.
Five years ago on Sunday, Hurricane Katrina smashed into the Gulf coast, devastating much of the region, and most memorably New Orleans. Yesterday was an occasion to look back at what went wrong in the city, and hope that the same mistakes are not made again.
One of the most notorious failures surrounding Katrina was the media's coverage of the situation in New Orleans. One "well-known [television] anchor," actor and filmmaker Harry Shearer recalled in an interview with Daily Finance's Jeff Bercovici, claimed the "the emotional stories are more compelling for our audience." Hence, the media mostly ignored the larger issues facing the city - survivors still stranded on rooftops, the reasons for the levy's failures - in favor of more sensationalistic, occasionally outright false stories.
Shearer gives the media's coverage - with the notable exceptions of only a couple outlets - a D-minus.
Interviewing President Barack Obama in New Orleans on Sunday afternoon, Brian Williams treated Obama with a level of deference he didn’t afford to President George W. Bush as he treated Obama as a great oracle of wisdom to pluck. “Katrina was about so many things. It was about class and race and government and the environment,” Williams told Obama in the except aired on the NBC Nightly News, yearning for guidance: “Whatever happened to that national conversation we were supposed to have about it?”
Williams raised how “it's getting baked in a little bit in the media that BP was President Obama's Katrina. And it's also getting baked in that the administration was slow off the mark,” but only to cue up Obama: “Is that unfair?” As the economy continues in dire straights and Obama’s economic policy of “stimulus” spending has obviously failed, all Williams could ask was: “Do you have anything new on the economy?”
Williams fretted that though “you're an American-born Christian...significant numbers of Americans in polls, upwards of a fifth of respondents are claiming you are neither.” The “question” from Williams: “This has to be troubling to you. This is, of course, all-new territory for an American President.”
As the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina slamming New Orleans nears, the folks at NBC offered viewers a "Meet the Press" special edition with a sadly predictable conclusion: the disaster was all George W. Bush and the federal government's fault.
The New Orleans mayor at the time was almost entirely ignored in this hour-long examination. The only mention of the state's former governor was actually one of praise.
Rather than offering one new compelling insight into the natural disaster that changed America, the invited guests all fed fill-in host Brian Williams the same old tired lines about racism and classism; despite numerous opportunities to delve into the decades of political corruption in the region that left the levees surrounding New Orleans in a dreadful state of disrepair, the subject was never broached.
Instead, what ensued - given all the time and resources available to really do a groundbreaking exposé on this issue - was something all those involved should be tremendously embarrassed for.
Frankly, that was clear right from the get go (partial video follows with partial transcript and commentary, full video and transcript here and here respectively):
Five year ago today, Hurricane Katrina slammed Louisiana and Mississippi forever changing America.
In the midst of unthinkable devastation, the media coverage of this natural disaster was disgraceful.
Despite almost immoral bungling by New Orleans' mayor and Louisiana's governor, as well as decades of corruption that left this city's levee system in a state of shameful disrepair, President George W. Bush was made the culprit for the damage, the suffering, and the loss.
Katrina largely signaled the end of the Bush presidency just eight months into his second term, and America's press were largely to blame.
How do you see this disaster five years later and how the media handled it? Was it an ominous precursor to the absolutely abysmal job so-called journalists did in covering the 2008 presidential election? What have we learned from this event about the power of the press, and what can be done about it?
Today co-anchor Matt Lauer traveled to New Orleans, on Friday, to mark the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and interviewed the likes of former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, former FEMA Director Mike Brown, current Democratic Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, but saved any sort of direct shots at George W. Bush for his interview with Laura Bush.
At the very end of his August 27 interview about her charitable work in the region, Lauer laid the following guilt trip on the former First Lady: [audio available here]
It has become clear that the Democratic establishment does not have as much of an interest in press freedom as they would have the public believe. But what is even more telling is the media's spotty response to censorship efforts in the Gulf of Mexico.
On Wednesday, House Natural Resouces Democrats rejected an amendment that would ensure press transparency in the Gulf. The amendment came mere days after the Coast Guard rescinded a policy keeping journalists at least 65 feet from "essential recovery efforts."
Offered by Rep. Paul Broun, pictured right, the amendment stated: "Except in cases of imminent harm to human life, federal officials shall allow free and open access to the media of oil spill clean up activity occurring on public lands or public shorelines, including the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.”
Since the amendment's defeat, the response from the mainstream press has been a deafening silence.
UPDATE - 7/13, 1:30 pm: In the face of criticism, the Coast Guard just rescinded this policy, allowing reporters free access to Gulf spill recovery efforts. Details below.
Effectively reporting on the Gulf oil spill is now a Class D felony, punishable by a fine of up to $40,000.
That's right, the most transparent administration in history has made it a felony, effective July 1, to get within 65 feet of what the Coast Guard determines are essential recovery efforts. According to Anderson Cooper, officials tried to up that number to 300 feet.
Cooper, who claimed federal officials prevented CNN on two occasions from taking photographs in the gulf, seemed frustrated when he reported on the new laws the day they went into effect. The press is "not the enemy here" he pleaded. The new policies, he said, make it "very easy to hide failure, and hide incompetence."
Cooper also let loose this zinger: "Transparency is apparently not a priority with [Coast Guard Commandant] Thad Allen these days." Ouch (full video and transcript below the fold - h/t Ron Robinson).
When Hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans in 2005, numerous media members blamed racism for President Bush's supposedly poor response to the disaster.
According to LexisNexis, there were almost 1,000 reports in the nine weeks following the storm's passage through the Gulf of Mexico that tied racism to the government's post-hurricane strategy.
Five years later, as oil slams the same region and polls show the public actually more unhappy with the response to this crisis than they were after Katrina hit, no such nefarious connection is being espoused.
Consider the media firestorm the following remark by rapper Kanye West set off just a few days after the hurricane hit New Orleans (video follows with transcript and commentary):
The top headline on MSNBC.com on Saturday morning declared "The granddaddy of all gushers? Not this spill." They touted a New York Times story:
President Obama called the leak in the Gulf of Mexico "the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced." But scholars are debating that description.
It's a good idea for reporters to question politicians' bluster about history. But it certainly sounds to Obama critics like an "It's not so bad quite yet" spin. The Times story goes off the spill question and into other disasters. It's certainly true that the Johnstown flood (with 2,200 deaths) trumps an oil spill in its human toll. Reporter Justin Gillis grew more conceptual:
A tale of two disasters: On ABC’s Good Morning America this morning, weatherman Sam Champion’s piece included reaction from several residents of Florida, Alabama and Louisiana to President Obama’s oil spill speech, and found three outright critics and no defenders of the administration’s handling of the disaster. One woman exclaimed: “What I would have liked to heard from him – that he actually had a plan.”
The kindest review came from a man in Alabama who merely hoped the federal response would improve: “I think we're seeing a change in how he's handling the situation. And I hope it's for the better.”
Five years ago, after President Bush spoke in New Orleans a few weeks after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf coast, ABC assembled a focus group of six people displaced by the storm, and taking refuge in Houston’s Astrodome. But to the evident astonishment of ABC’s correspondent, not one member of that group would denounce President Bush, but instead leveled their criticism at local officials who failed to prepare the city ahead of time.
Joe Scarborough continued his open defense of the Obama administration’s response to the BP oil spill, on Wednesday’s “Morning Joe.” Facing off against Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), Scarborough called comparisons of the president’s handling of the current crisis with Bush’s handling of Katrina “obscene.”
“Behind the scenes, President Obama from day one was actually very engaged,” Scarborough argued. “[Obama] told his White House staff ‘This is job one,’ ordered all of the agencies to throw the full force of the federal government behind this. I mean...we’ve got the minutes of the meeting from April 22 where he said that.”
Rep. King countered that the administration lacked style in its handling of the crisis, and took eight days to declare it a “matter of national significance.”
Though Scarborough said that President Obama has done everything of “substance” to respond to the spill, King also asked Scarborough what more President Bush could have done to handle the Katrina crisis.
“What could George Bush have done?” Scarborough asked. “A hell of a lot.”
“This is one of the most obscene comparisons, between Katrina and BP,” Scarborough spat out. “I was on the ground from day one. I can tell you the federal government was not there. The state government was not there. The local government was not there.”
“No, you’re wrong, You’re wrong. That is not FEMA’s job,” Rep. King shot back. “That is the job of the mayor and the governor for the first two or three days.”
At this point, it may be safe to say that “Morning Joe” host Joe Scarborough is no more Republican than Arlen Specter. After all, the show’s “conservative” host takes almost every opportunity to defend the current administration and dismiss Obama's critics.
On June 9, the panelists were reviewing the Obama administration’s response to the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Scarborough asserted, “A poll yesterday shows that more people think that the government is mishandling this than Katrina, which is just, I think, ridiculous.”
Fellow MSNBC anchor Andrea Mitchell agreed, and noted that the president and his team have been down in the Gulf working hard. And then Mitchell asserted that Obama could have diminished criticism if a week earlier, he had "gone down there and stayed and had a meal with the people, eaten some shrimp.” [MP3 audio avaiable here]
The mainstream media seem to have boiled down the president's reaction to the Gulf spill to two caricatures: either he has failed to satiate public appetites by feigning outrage, or he is succeeding by acting angry. Whereas journalists rightly expected President Bush to do something about Katrina--and excoriated him when he supposedly didn't do enough--the media seem content listening to Obama speak.
That the president may not be doing everything in his power, like, say, meeting with the CEO of British Petroleum, seems not even to cross their minds. So the only critique of the president that remains is one of style. By focusing on what the president has said--rather than what he has done--and how he has said it, the media have diverted (albeit unintentionally) attention from the administration's actual response to the spill to its emotional and verbal response.
Obama and his predecessor both accepted responsibility for the spill and Hurricane Katrina, respectively. But the mainstream press took the former at his word; they rightfully held him accountable for his administration's actions. No such accountability is present in the media's reporting on Obama's response to the Gulf spill.
Huffington Post writer and author of poetry and fiction, Anis Shivani, demonstrated what we have seen in bits and pieces throughout the liberal MSM, though it is rarely seen in such dramatic and sweeping fashion. Shivani harnessed all of the rational thought he could muster, gathered a bevy of intelligent rhetoric, armed himself with a cache of well-reasoned arguments and... quickly dispensed with them prior to writing his recent column.
The gist of the piece? Every major catastrophe to hit America can be traced to one singular event - George Bush and the 2000 Presidential election results.
Shivani starts off by listing examples of American catastrophes - 9/11, Enron, Katrina, Wall Street, the BP spill.
He then explains (emphasis mine throughout):
"It all began with the Florida election theft in 2000 (all of the now-familiar excuses were first used in full force, in total conjugation, for this first disaster). It gave a signal to everyone managing and regulating and overseeing any kind of operation, public or private, that henceforth it was the day of the jackals, that accountability and honesty and certitude were out the door."
For good measure - and in tune with his liberal colleagues - the BP oil spill is singled out as being directly Bush's fault:
On the Wednesday edition of “Morning Joe,” host Joe Scarborough attacked Republican political strategist Karl Rove for his critique of the Obama administration’s delayed response to the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
Scarborough was irate at the “hypocrisy” of the statement because during his time in New Orleans in the middle of Katrina, he recalled, “a lot of people keeping their mouths shut because they didn't want to criticize President Bush.” [MP3 audio available here; WMV video for download here]
This outburst was in response to Karl Rove’s statement on Fox News that, “The president and his people are in charge of this under the Oil Spill Liability Act and they don’t have a plan.” Scarborough then hastily asserted, “Just keep your mouth shut. I'm not saying don't criticize the president, but if you were involved in Katrina, keep your mouth shut.”
Of course, during a post-Katrina interview with “NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams, Scarborough felt no compulsion to keep his mouth shut in deference to the president. At the time, Scarborough asked if Williams found it an "ironic choice" to report “from a major American city where young children died of dehydration out on sidewalks, and now you've got the President of the United States delivering a speech to the nation from Jackson Square, an area largely untouched by Katrina's devastation.”
The mainstream media is of course replete with liberal opinionistas who criticize Republicans far more harshly than Democrats. That is nothing new. It is truly shocking, however, when supposedly "objective" news outlets employ even more egregious double standards than the openly-biased commentators.
The Wall Street Journal's James Taranto caught the Associated Press employing one such double standard over the weekend. The AP's Ben Feller penned quite a sob story about the president's response to the Gulf spill, saying that Obama is "having to work through unforeseen problems" and made sure to note that his "ability to calmly handle many competing issues simultaneously is viewed as one of his strengths."
A contrast with the AP's rheotroic on the Bush administration's response to Hurricane Katrina reveals quite a discrepany in the organization's views on the executive's accountability for natural disasters. That New York Times columnist Frank Rich and uber-liberal mudslinger Bill Maher have both had harsher words for the current president and his response to the Gulf spill speaks volumes.
With the Gulf Coast oil spill appearing to spin out of control, the Obama-loving media are now working overtime to shelter the President from any possible blame.
Exhibit A: New York Times columnist Frank Rich's pathetic piece published Sunday.
Almost incomprehensibly, "Obama's Katrina? Maybe Worse" is more of hit piece on the Bush administration than a serious analysis of the failings of the current White House to do anything to prevent the environmental disaster slamming the Gulf Coast after that oil well exploded almost six weeks ago.
But that's just the beginning, for Rich actually ends up pointing fingers at Dick Cheney, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, the Tea Party, and Rand Paul:
On Saturday, the Associated Press informed its readers that President Obama cannot be expected to focus all of his attention on the Gulf Coast oil spill.
The reason? Presidents have to juggle a number of pressing issues at a time, and what with America being in a recession, Obama simply can't afford to give sole focus to this disaster.
Too bad the AP wasn't so understanding in 2005 when President Bush was perceived as being detached from the suffering in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Back then, the wire service was quick to mention vacation plans and peddle accusations of the federal government not caring about the poor.
But what a difference with a Democrat in the White House: as BP's efforts to plug the leak continue to fail, there is increasing danger of Americans putting partial blame on an ineffective government - and we just can't have that.
The AP's Ben Feller helpfully published a reminder that there's more going on in the world than oil pumping into the water in the Gulf:
CNN's Anderson Cooper first defended the Obama administration's initial response to the Gulf oil leak and then criticized him from the left on Tuesday's AC360: "A month ago, it seemed like the federal government was on top of this. They were beating back claims...that this was Obama's Katrina." He later continued that "it doesn't seem like there's much pressure being applied to [BP], if it's there at all."
Cooper brought on CNN senior political analyst David Gergen and liberal presidential historian Douglas Brinkley for a panel discussion on the environmental disaster 25 minutes into the 10 pm Eastern hour. The anchor included his apologetic of the early response by the administration in his first question to Gergen: "David, I mean, a month ago, it seemed like the federal government was on top of this. They were beating back claims by conservatives that this was Obama's Katrina, and now, it seems that may have been premature."
On Friday’s The O’Reilly Factor on FNC, Good Morning America co-anchor George Stephanopoulos of ABC appeared as a guest and discussed President Obama’s reaction to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. When host Bill O’Reilly asked if some of Obama’s recent attacks on oil companies amounted to "grandstanding," Stephanopoulos seemed to agree and pointed out that, since President Obama took office, his administration has approved "dozens of these projects without getting the proper environmental clearances," and characterized Obama as being "Reaganesque" in distancing himself from the problem: "He was kind of trying to do a little bit of a Reaganesque move there by blaming the federal government and separating himself a bit from the federal government."
But when O’Reilly wondered if a comparison could be made between the "lateness" of President Obama’s reaction to the oil spill and of President Bush’s reaction to Hurricane Katrina, Stephanopoulos saw such a comparison as a "stretch," but left open the possibility that, over the long term, if Obama does not deal with the problem adequately, he could be blamed by the public and the outcome would be seen as "the President’s responsibility":
On Friday, in the course of a general complaint about the relative lack of coverage of the flooding in Nashville and much of Tennessee, the Associated Press received a deserved compliment for its coverage from Investors Business Daily, which correctly implied that AP can't make its subscribers publish its output.
But IBD missed one item, and understandably so. On Wednesday, the AP ran an article whose purpose seemed to be either to arouse class envy at a time when people should be pulling together, or to criticize the state and federal relief effort's priorities. That article is no longer present at AP's main web site. Why?
The item can still be found in about 150 places as of 11 p.m. Eastern time. (That may seem like a lot, but in context it isn't.) Once you see the tenor and tone of the coverage, you'll understand why the wire service might have wanted to pretend it never published the coverage of reporters Sheila Burke and Travis Loller.
Unfortunately, since I didn't do a screen grab, I'm not sure of the exact title AP used at its main site. But here are examples of headlines employed at subscribing sites, one of which is probably the one the AP's main site also used:
The Pentagon rescinded the invitation of evangelist Franklin Graham to speak at its May 6 National Day of Prayer event because of complaints about his previous comments about Islam.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation expressed its concern over Graham's involvement with the event in an April 19 letter sent to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. MRFF's complaint about Graham, the son of Rev. Billy Graham, focused on remarks he made after 9/11 in which he called Islam "wicked" and "evil" and his lack of apology for those words.
Col. Tom Collins, an Army spokesman, told ABC News on April 22, "This Army honors all faiths and tries to inculcate our soldiers and work force with an appreciation of all faiths and his past comments just were not appropriate for this venue."
On Saturday, NB's Noel Sheppard reported on this statement made by Education Secretary Arne Duncan: "I think the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was hurricane Katrina. That education system was a disaster. It took hurricane Katrina to wake up the community and say we have to do better."
CNN host T.J. Holmes read that quote aloud during a broadcast. "Of course I agree" with Duncan's statement, said one guest, CNN contributor Steve Perry. The host and correspondents went back and forth about how the hurricane may or may not have helped public schools, never once impugning Duncan's motives.
Contrast this media response with the response to former Republican Congressman from Louisiana Richard Baker's statement regarding Katrina: "We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn't do it, but God did." It sparked outrage among the liberal media (h/t NRO's John Miller).
Here's something you never would have heard from a mainstream media outlet when George W. Bush was President: Hurricane Katrina was a good thing for New Orleans.
When it comes to the school system in the Louisiana city, that's exactly what CNN reported during Saturday's "Newsroom."
After anchor T.J. Holmes read a statement from Education Secretary Arne Duncan -- "I think the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina" -- he was joined by fellow CNNer's Roland Martin and Steve Perry who largely agreed.
As you watch the following video, try to imagine this discussion happening on CNN if Bush was still in the White House (video embedded below the fold with full transcript, h/t Story Balloon):
On Monday’s edition of Rosie Radio, host Rosie O’Donnell spun the outpouring of support for the victims of the Haiti earthquake as a result of President Obama’s leadership. She then falsely accused George Bush of not quickly speaking out after Hurricane Katrina: "If two days after Katrina, you know, the President of the United States went on and said, 'You will not be forsaken. You will not be forgotten. We are sending in the Army-’" [Audio available here.]
The satellite radio host added, "If there was that, sort of, mass impulse to help, I think, then, Americans would have felt more justified of, you know, helping..." In fact, two days after Hurricane Katrina, on August 31, 2005, President Bush said this in the Rose Garden: "Right now, the days seem awfully dark for those affected. I understand that."
He continued, "But I'm confident that with time, you'll get your life back in order. New communities will flourish. The great City of New Orleans will be back on its feet. And America will be a stronger place for it. The country stands with you. We'll do all in our power to help you." The speech also laid out exactly how the National Guard, FEMA and other government agencies would assist the effort.
'Ya just gotta love BDSers (those with Bush Derangement Syndrome). Their hatred is so intense that it causes them to get even the most elementary of facts wrong. In this case, it's sports guy Filip Bondy of the NY Daily News, writing about this past Sunday's NFC Championship game in New Orleans:
If you needed further proof of this [New Orleans racial] divide, then it came during a pregame introduction of former President Bush. Once pilloried for his approach to the Katrina catastrophe in 2005, Bush was heartily cheered at the Superdome - which tells you all you need to know about the crowd's demographics.
Rolling Stone, a music magazine in the same sense that MTV is a music-video channel, was featured on this morning's edition of Morning Joe. Their cover story is not about the latest escapades of Kanye West or Lady Gaga; instead, they have chosen to write about global warming. Before anyone asks, none of the above recording artists (to my knowledge) have recorded a song which would have spawned this article.
"As the World Burns," is the eyes-bleeding hyperbolic title of the article. Contents: The 17 people whom Rolling Stone calls "climate killers." And the first target of the article: Billionaire investor and ardent Obama supporter, Warren Buffett:
JOE SCARBOROUGH: You put Warren Buffett on that list, I thought he was an Obama supporter?