Last week’s Associated Press release of a video, taken just prior to Hurricane Katrina’s arrival in New Orleans last August, has generated a new round of second-guessing and finger pointing regarding who is to blame for the supposedly slow, poor response to this natural disaster. Falling under the fold was an in-depth cover story on this subject by an unlikely source, Popular Mechanics.
In its March issue, PM took on virtually all of the media myths and misnomers that were so drilled into the citizenry by press representatives that many have become part of the public psyche. Thankfully, its authors made it clear right in the first paragraph that they planned on pulling no punches:
“In the months since the storm, many of the first impressions conveyed by the media have turned out to be mistaken.”
How mistaken? Well, PM and its staff put together a list of seven myths concerning Katrina that have been purported by the media, and like a good mechanic, quickly isolated the flaws inherent in the press coverage while making much-needed repairs.
The editor of the liberal American Prospect magazine used an AP story on Bush allegedly being warned about levees being breached in New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina touched down as a jumping off point to seethe with wrath against Bush, calling him stupid and a liar and his conservative supporters “sociopaths.”
The next day, the AP story was “clarified” in a way that completely undermined both its and editor Michael Tomasky’s point.
(Update: A reprint of Tomasky's piece tops CBS's Opinion page today, which is even less excusable, given that the underlying AP story was knocked down two days ago.)
Former FEMA Director Michael Brown offered Chris Wallace and Fox News Sunday an exclusive this morning, and in return Wallace gave Brown a platform from which to tee off on the Bush administration and in particular on DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff and Homeland Security Advisor Fran Townsend. Wallace probed Brown's arguments on occasion, but largely gave Brown free rein.
Highlights from the Brown hit parade:
"I think we had dropped the ball long before Katrina hit in not doing the kind of catastrophic disaster planning that the federal government should have been doing."
"Secretary Chertoff's order for me to stay [in the operations center] in Baton Rouge is one of the tipping points that made this disaster worse."
And here we thought the MSM was biased against President Bush. Wrong! On this evening's Fox News Watch, reliable lefty Neal Gabler informed us that just the opposite is true. Turns out. . . the MSM has uncritically propagated an overly positive image of the president. Who knew?
Gabler's shocking revelation came in the course of a discussion of the recent Katrina revisionism. In particular, News Watch aired footage from an ABC interview from this past week in which the president made this frank acknowledgement:
"Here's the problem that happened in Katrina. There was no situational awareness, and that means that we weren't getting good, solid information from people who were on the ground, and we need to do a better job. One reason we weren't is because communications systems got wiped out, and in many cases we were relying upon the media, who happened to have better situational awareness than the government. And when you have the media [with] better situational awareness than the government, the American people are saying, 'Wait a minute. What is happening? How come the federal Government and state government and local governments couldn't do a better job of providing information necessarily so that people could react better?"
[Be advised that this item includes accurate quotations of vulgarities.] Actor/comedian D.L. Hughley, the star of the 1998-2002 ABC sit-com, The Hughleys, and the host of Comedy Central's Weekends at the DL, which is now on hiatus, launched some derisive tirades against President George W. Bush while a guest panelist Friday night on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher. After Hughley charged that Bush “has spent, and the Republican Party have spent, the last five years making us ignorant and afraid,” he mockingly suggested that the “J.J." character, from the 1970s sit-com Good Times, “could run the country better than this guy!” When host Bill Maher remarked that “what scares me about a guy like George Bush” is the “certitude” he has because of his faith which means that “no matter how low his approval rating goes, he doesn't care because he sees himself as a messianic figure,” Hughley launched this rant: “If I hear one more person tell me how this man is a man of faith, I think I'll lose my mother-fucking mind [audience applause]. Let me tell you why. I'll tell you why. He left his ranch in Crawford to see about one woman, Terry Schiavo, he left his ranch early. But when thousands and thousands of people were being, dying in New Orleans, this son of a bitch didn't do shit, and that's very un-Christlike to me.” (Transcript follows.)
Hours before the AP released its videotape featuring just a voice of Gov. Kathleen Blanco insisting meekly that she didn’t think the levees had been breached, National Public Radio’s "All Things Considered" aired an interview of Gov. Blanco with "ATC" co-anchor Michele Norris. (She pronounces it "Me-chelle.") Norris tells the listener the audio is a bit dated ("We sat down with her in New Orleans this week"), but her questions are incredibly mild and sympathetic, with no question of Blanco’s judgment or competence during or since the hurricane and flooding -- or her "Martha Stewart" state office refurbishing (see below).
Norris began: "The state’s been promised more than 10 billion dollars in recovery assistance from the White House, but Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco says the state needs much more help...She said lawmakers in Washington can’t fully understand her state’s needs until they see the devastation for themselves."
In a common, subtle move of media sympathy, Norris avoided airing her initial question, airing just the Governor’s answer, merely underlining the horror in the hurricane’s path. Blanco explained:
As NewsBuster Mark Finkelstein pointed out this morning, Hollywood’s liberal streak is now so obvious even the news media are taking notice. But it isn’t just that celebrities are liberal activists in their spare time — liberal talking points are also finding their way onto TV and movie screens.
Case in point: Last night’s ER, NBC’s long-running medical drama. The March 2 episode saw the much-promoted return of “Dr. John Carter,” played by Noah Wyle, who left the show at the end of last season. Last night’s episode had John volunteering at a refugee camp in Darfur, Sudan, where hundreds of thousands have died in a real-life humanitarian catastrophe. Even as they portrayed the Janjaweed militia as the chief villains, the ER writers couldn’t resist taking a potshot at inaction by a supposedly racist U.S. Congress. Windows Media or Real Player
For the second consecutive night, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann, citing recently released videotape of Bush administration officials meeting before Hurricane Katrina struck, questioned the honesty of Bush's September statement that nobody "anticipated the breach of the levees," claiming that the possibility of a "breach" had been talked about during the videotaped meeting. But also on this second night, the Countdown host ran a story filed by NBC's Lisa Myers in which she torpedoed Olbermann's claim, citing meteorologist Max Mayfield's recollection that "nobody talked about the possibility of levee breach or failure until after it happened." Olbermann, evidently not noticing this, continued as if her report had supported his attack on Bush rather than disproved it. Guest Dana Milbank of the Washington Post even followed up by directly referring to Myers' report as evidence of Bush's "credibility" being undermined, even though Myers clearly argued in her piece that Bush's version of the story was supported by her investigation. Milbank: "It undermines the President's credibility, and now people are getting at this question of his honesty and his secrecy." (Complete transcripts follow)
MSNBC versus NBC News. MSNBC's David Shuster, at the top of Thursday's Hardball, and NBC's Lisa Myers at the start of the NBC Nightly News, played the identical soundbites from Max Mayfield of the National Hurricane Center warning, on Sunday August 28, about his “grave concern” the levees in New Orleans could be “topped,” and a clip of President Bush four days later maintaining that "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees." But they used the soundbites to prove opposite assessments. Shuster contended that Mayfield's video “seems to contradict what President Bush said about Katrina” since Mayfield's warning “clearly” means that “the President's team did anticipate the breach.”
Lisa Myers, however, recognized the meaning of words and how water flowing over a levee, topping it, is not the same thing as a breaching, the collapse of a levee, which is what occurred. Myers explained: "Today Mayfield told NBC News that he warned only that the levees might be topped, not breached, and that on the many conference calls he monitored, 'nobody talked about the possibility of a levee breach or failure until after it happened.'” (Transcripts follow.)
The media at all levels on Wednesday pounced on video released by the AP of government conference calls held as Hurricane Katrina hit last August, with most stories portraying them as containing a smoking gun about how President Bush was warned about potential levee failure. But as FNC's Brit Hume noted on his show Thursday night, the video, which MSNBC's Hardballhyped Wednesday as “breaking news,” was hardly any such thing, or “confidential video” as the AP hyped, since the video was made public at the time and the sessions were open to the press.
During Hume's panel segment, Bill Sammon, fresh to the Washington Examiner from the Washington Times, excoriated his press corps colleagues for “journalistic fraud” as well as “disingenuous” and "bogus" reporting. Referring to the video of a meeting President Bush participated in from his Texas ranch, Sammon charged: “It's held out today and yesterday as almost a smoking gun. I would say not only is it not a smoking bun gun, it's actually a journalistic fraud for some of the reasons you've outlined where they suggested it was ‘confidential' videotape where it wasn't. It was open press. Also, they make Max Mayfield out to sound like he was sounding the alarm bells when clearly he was ambivalent in the extreme....So, to suggest that was the warning that Bush should have heeded and didn't, is disingenuous in the extreme.” Sammon also took on the press for denigrating Michael Brown as an incompetent, but now they want to “rehabilitate him because he's now willing to trash the Department of Homeland Security....This is disingenuous of the mainstream media to suddenly rehabilitate Michael Brown for their own political purposes." (Transcript follows.)
There’s no getting around it. Chris Matthews hears what he wants to hear even when the facts are right in front of him.
After showing the video of President Bush being briefed by Max Mayfield saying: "I don’t think anybody can tell you with any confidence right now whether the levees will be topped or not, but that’s obviously a very, very grave concern," Matthews took that as evidence that Bush lied when he said no one anticipated the breach of the levees.
Here’s what Matthews said after running a clip of the video: "Okay. There we saw it and I want to repeat something that I just read and I want to repeat it to you because I read a few minutes ago.
Here’s the President four days after Hurricane Katrina, that’s four days, actually five days after that briefing. ‘I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees,’ that’s the President. Kate O’Beirne, square those two facts, the briefing we just saw on tape and the President saying he was never briefed as to the possibility of the water coming over from Lake Pontchartrain."
The Associated Press is running a piece of video on which they're claiming exclusivity, of some of the FEMA preparation meetings prior to the landfall of Hurrican Katrina. They've also got video of the President speaking to FEMA, and then, later, speaking to ABC in the aftermath. They've chosen to portray the President as oblivious to what happened in New Orleans.
Now it's getting nasty. Katie Couric has pointedly suggested that Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour's past chairmanship of the Republican National Committee permitted him to snare a disproportionately large share of Katrina rebuilding funds.
The accusation came in the course of Couric's interview of Jim Amoss, editor of the New Orleans Times-Picayune. An aside: whereas Katie seemed frustrated in an earlier interview this morning of Mayor Ray Nagin when he was unwilling to point the finger at the Bush administration for allegedly slow progress, Amoss was much more compliant. He laid most of the fault at FEMA's feet, and also blamed the federal government for doing nothing to improve levees it allegedly knew were insufficient.
Didn't someone get the word to Ray Nagin? Didn't His Honor know he was supposed to use his Mardi Gras appearance on the Today show to bemoan slow progress in the rebuilding of New Orleans and take some helpful shots at the Bush administration for its stinginess in allocating only $91 billion?
If Nagin wasn't playing by the Bush-bashing script, Katie Couric was there to fill the gaps and use the opportunity to plump for more government programs including an expansion of perhaps the worst idea ever in welfare - 'public housing.'
Katie opened her interview with this negative assessment: "Only 50% of the debris has been removed. Basic services are still not up and running in some areas. That may lead some people to ask: what is taking so long?"
If you look in the dictionary next to 'disgruntled', expect to find a photo of former FEMA Director Michael Brown. As the Today show graphic read, "Michael Brown Blames White House," and NBC Nightly News host Brian Williams was there to record every embittered word, with nary a nuanced question that might have probed Brown's account of the federal response to Hurricane Katrina.
In the interview excerpt shown on this morning's Today, Brown sought to exculpate himself by describing a conference call he had held with the President and top administration officials in which Brown informed them that 90% of New Orleans' population had been displaced.
Claimed Brown: "I am screaming that we need to do these things. We need all this stuff. It's like the old ketchup commercial. I just could not get the stuff to come out of the bottle."
In fact, on Aug. 30, the President began his day in San Diego where he took part in an anniversary observance of V-J Day and visited a Naval hospital. Later he flew to Arizona to speak on medicare; after which he flew to Texas. Throughout the day, the President was kept informed of Katrina developments and made decisions regarding relief efforts.
When's the last time you recall a prominent elected official being called a morning malt liquor drinker on live national TV? It just happened on the Today show.
Today was no doubt looking for a light touch when co-host Campbell Brown interviewed New Orleans magician, comic and eccentric extraordinaire Harry Anderson in a pre-Mardi Gras piece on "Life after Katrina." But the NBC show surely got more than it was bargaining for.
When Anderson took some shots at FEMA and the federal response to Katrina, Brown, in an apparent bid for balance, responded:
"Let me ask you about Mayor Nagin, because your mayor has come under a lot of crticism too for how he's handled the rebuilding effort. What do you think of the mayor?"
On last night's Hardball Chris Matthews invited on Rep. Barney Frank to defend the wild claim Frank made during the Hurricane Katrina hearings: "We have to do more, because here’s what I have to say and I hate to have to have to say this about my own government. But I believe what we are seeing with regard to New Orleans and the surrounding area is a policy frankly of ethnic cleansing by inaction."
Tim Graham blogged about it here but a quick survey of MRC analysts reveals MSNBC's Hardball has been the only network show to touch on the remark. This is a far cry from the reaction Pat Robertson received for his controversial remarks especially when you consider the arguable relevance he still has at least compared to Frank's status as a current sitting member of Congress.
The gargantuan task of rebuilding New Orleans after hurricane Katrina is an ongoing news story -- but it doesn't have to be presented solely as a liberal narrative, with the Democratic local officials, Mayor Ray Nagin and Gov. Kathleen Blanco, assigned only the role of heroic pleaders to the racist Republican administration, while left-wing protest groups cheer on Barney Frank's claims that the administration is conducting "ethnic cleansing by inaction."
But that's precisely what Washington Post readers get today on the front page and beyond. Reporter Linton Weeks begins with Gov. Blanco declaring "It's time to play hardball, as I believe it's the only game Washington understands," and readers are told it represents "the fervor and frustration of someone living in Limbo Land." Mayor Nagin is contacting foreign governments for aid. They're doing this "because they say they need more money to rebuild New Orleans. They are trying to appeal to the federal government and also minister to impatient constituents. New Orleanians are angry that President Bush did not devote more of his State of the Union speech to the city and are concerned that Washington's attention is no longer on them. They feel as though they are living in the mean in-between." To Weeks, the story line is a deprived and neglected New Orleans, with no mention that President Bush says $85 billion has been committed to reconstruction.
Some speakers at Tuesday's memorial service near Atlanta for Coretta King used the opportunity to blast from the left the racial, budget and foreign policies of President George W. Bush, who was himself amongst the speakers. Yet Wednesday's NBC Nightly News managed to turn the event into an indictment of Bush and imaginary “deep cuts” in social programs, without mentioning the vitriolic hatred directed toward him by the very black organizations and leaders NBC's Andrea Mitchell suggested he has snubbed. Anchor Brian Williams noted how the service included “criticisms of President Bush's domestic and foreign policies.” But then he framed the story around how it supposedly “raised fresh questions about the Bush administration's record on race.”
Mitchell began with a back-handed slap at Bush: "It was an in-your-face rebuke rare for any President, especially one who doesn't often surround himself with critics." Mitchell at least pointed out how Andrew Young considered it an inappropriate forum for attacking a President, before she recited Bush's mistakes: “After five years in office, deep cuts in social programs, and searing criticism of the response to Hurricane Katrina, George W. Bush is still struggling to explain himself to African-Americans.” Of course, there haven't even been mild cuts in social programs, never mind Mitchell's ludicrous claim about “deep cuts.” Mitchell also relayed how “critics, often Democrats, remember that he has not attended an NAACP convention since taking office.” Maybe that's because a few months after he attended one in 2000, the NAACP produced a TV ad narrated by the daughter of James Byrd, the black man murdered by being dragged behind a pick-up truck, which charged that since “Governor George W. Bush refused to support hate crimes legislation, it was like my father was killed all over again.” And Mitchell also skipped how just last week NAACP Chairman Julian Bond alleged that the Republicans' “idea of equal rights is the American flag and the Confederate swastika flying side-by-side" and he asserted that “Republicans draw their most rabid supporters from the Taliban wing of American politics." (Transcript follows, as well as video of the 2000 NAACP ad)
As was reported yesterday on NewsBusters, Democratic Senator John Kerry wasn't challenged on the Today show after he claimed that 53% of Americans don't graduate from high school. Well on this morning's Early Show, New Orleans Democratic Mayor Ray Nagin made an equally silly claim, "50% of all residents in the United States live along the Gulf Coast." I listened to the soundbite several times to ensure I heard him correctly.
The claim came during an interview with Harry Smith about President Bush's State of the Union Address and the challenges in rebuilding New Orleans, but was Harry Smith even listening to Nagin? One would think a competent journalist would have picked up on such an outragreous claim and challenged Nagin on it, or asked Nagin to clarify his remarks. Would Smith had let that slide if it were a Republican making such assertions?
ABC on Wednesday night devoted a story to how New Orleans residents are upset that President Bush, in his State of the Union address, did not advocate even more money for those hurt by Hurricane Katrina. Reporter Steve Osunsami littered his story with several supposed Bush voters who are angry at him. “The speech was practically over before the President mentioned Hurricane Katrina, one of the worst natural disasters in America's history,” World News Tonight anchor Elizabeth Vargas fretted. She added: “Many people in New Orleans were not happy about it.” Osunsami began with a woman who proclaimed: “Last night, the proof was in the pudding. He doesn't give a damn about us!" Osunsami outlined “what many residents wanted to hear: A greater share of the tax revenue generated from oil and gas drilled off Louisiana's shore, even more money for stronger levees, and a rebuilding plan that would cover each and every affected homeowner.”
Osunsami noted how $85 billion has already been allocated, before he proceeded to cue up soundbites from Bush voters. A doctor argued that "this is a situation that requires big government help” and a woman contended that “the government's job is to protect me, and that's what I expect them to do." Osunsami cautioned: "Perhaps the State of the Union Address wasn't the place for announcing policy aimed at helping these homeowners, but there's a feeling here that they were slighted." (Transcript follows.)
On today's CNN American Morning, anchor Soledad O'Brien began a story with: "Lots of people in New Orleans wondering exactly what happened last night. They listened to the president for about 47 minutes before there was even a mention of their city."
After playing a clip from President Bush's State of the Union address, she continued: "And that was kind of it. The president went on for just about a minute. A little bit less. Didn't offer any new money, any new aid."
CNN correspondent Dan Lothian then said New Orleans people believe, "That it was a slap in the face. And this comes, of course, after
residents have been telling us that they don't believe the White House
has been doing nearly enough to help." He then spoke to a handful of people who complained. $85 billion in government money has already been committed to the region, he mentioned, but "of course, people here simply don't believe that they're getting any of that money or that that money is nearly enough."
New York Times reporter James Dao reports Friday on a study suggesting most of New Orleans’ displaced black population may not return, and dips briefly and non-critically into Mayor Ray Nagin’s Martin Luther King day remarks about the future racial makeup of New Orleans. He even leaves off the most controversial part -- Nagin’s incendiary preference for a “chocolate New Orleans.”
“The study, financed by a grant from the National Science Foundation, was released Thursday, 10 days after the mayor of New Orleans, C. Ray Nagin, who is black, told an audience that ‘this city will be a majority African-American city; it's the way God wants it to be.’”
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’s an old rule in marketing – stick to what sells. Lately, it appears that America’s media are doing exactly that.
Since the significant rebound in the president’s poll numbers from their October lows, along with an apparent lack of outrage by the public concerning the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal and revelations of domestic eavesdropping by the National Security Agency, the media seem to be downplaying reports on current events, and, instead, focusing attention on last year’s big story that was largely responsible for the decline in Bush’s favorability ratings.
In the past three days, the media have given more air time and print space to issues surrounding Hurricane Katrina, an event that occurred at the end of August 2005, than a one and a half-hour question and answer session in Kansas that the president held on Monday, and a one-hour address that the second most powerful intelligence figure in our nation gave concerning terrorist surveillance the same day.
This year’s Martin Luther King Day celebration was a wild and woolly collection of left-wing blather.
In Washington, showing remarkable feats of amnesia that he was ever vice president in a corrupt administration, Al Gore gave a speech claiming President Bush was a law-breaking president and his illegal actions a threat to the survival of our democracy, an extraordinary accusation for even this man to make, given the same policies were executed by the Clinton-Gore administration.
In New Orleans, Mayor Ray Nagin announced that God wanted New Orleans to be a “chocolate” city again. When challenged that this might make him sound like a little racist, he dug a deeper hole by claiming whites were the milk in his milk-chocolate shake.
Even in this stew of silliness, Hillary Rodham Clinton still managed to draw headlines for herself by marching into a Baptist church with Al Sharpton in Harlem and giving a fiery speech. First, Hillary sounded the same Clinton-amnesia notes as Gore, charging that President Bush’s team was historically filled with corrupt cronies, that his presidency "will go down in history as one of the worst.” But with Sharpton proudly looking on, she threw the race card on the table with a big, noisy thwack. “When you look at the way the House of Representatives has been run, it has been run like a plantation, and you know what I'm talking about.” Bush is not only incompetent. Dennis Hastert is a slave master. Laura Bush was right. It was “ridiculous.”
Note: Today marks the beginning of a regular column here on NewsBusters called "Media Roundup." It'll keep track of that day's media news. Feel free to post a link to other stories you see in the comments for each entry.
Sugar Ray Nagin is still in the news for that horrible chocolate comment. I found the back tracking to be even more ridiculous than the original comment; "Do you know anything about chocolate? How do you make chocolate? You take dark chocolate, you mix it with white milk, and it becomes a delicious drink. That's the chocolate I'm talkin' about." I know enough about dark chocolate to know that when you pour milk on it you get more of a chocolate cereal than a delicious drink. Calls to determine where that leaves Asians in New Orleans went unreturned.
Readers of the Louisville Courier-Journal may not know what we're talking about. Their Ombud explains:
Nagin's reference to "chocolate New Orleans" had been edited out of that same story in these pages. Instead, our version read, "Nagin also promised that New Orleans will be rebuilt and again will be 'a majority African American city.' " So, what gives? The short answer: We messed up.
CNN finally hired a conservative talker, Glenn Beck. Media Matters is all flustered about the whole thing, but in the end they are just ticked off they are going to have to watch another hour of conservative TV every day.
Writing in the January 18 Washington Post, staff writer Manuel Roig-Franzia begins a story about New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin's apology with a reference to talk radio:
NEW ORLEANS, Jan. 17 -- An avalanche of criticism, stoked by heated talk-radio rants, forced Mayor C. Ray Nagin to apologize Tuesday for declaring that God wants New Orleans to be a "chocolate city."
Nagin, who is black, had said during a Martin Luther King Jr. Day speech that "this city will be an African American majority city. It's the way God wants it to be." He also said "God is mad at America" and "is sending hurricane after hurricane" because He disapproves of the United States invading Iraq "under false pretenses."
At an event attended by Hillary Clinton, Harry Belafonte said that President Bush has begun to "suspend our Constitution" and that doing so is an "act of terror." The pop singer made these comments after giving a speech at a children’s charity dinner. The exchange was reported on the January 13th edition of Fox and Friends, at 7:08AM EST. Co-hosts Steve Doocy, Brian Kilmeade and E.D. Hill began by discussing Mr. Belafonte’s earlier comments, where he referred to the President as "the greatest terrorist in the world." (Noel Sheppard reported this story for Newsbusters.) Ms. Hill set up the new Belafonte statements by saying, "You know what we did? We sent someone from Fox News Channel to go find out if that’s what he really meant to say." Mr. Belafonte told FNC: