Damned If They Do and Damned If They Don't

One of Rush Limbaugh’s many pet peeves with the "drive-by" media’s coverage of Hurricane Katrina has been reporters nagging that the Bush administration wasn’t doling out money fast enough only to turn around and then complain that much of money has been wasted in various scams. A prime example of this was NBC’s Norah O’Donnell on last night’s Hardball. O’Donnell, determined to deny the administration any successes, asked the Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson:

"A year later and less than half of New Orleans residents have moved back. There have been, according to government watchdog groups, at least $2 billion in fraud and waste, scams, et cetera. Can Bush claim that there's any success in what's happened in the Gulf Coast in the past year?"

Later O’Donnell posed the question again to former FEMA Director Michael Brown: "One year later, less than half of the residents of New Orleans have moved back. Billions of dollars in waste, billions in some of the money that was handed out to people, used on all kinds of weird, disgusting things, if you will. Fraud, massive fraud, so not only was there a failure to help those in need at the beginning, but now we discover that there has been failure and fraud and scams, et cetera, for the past years in terms of doling out the money. What is going to be done about this? I know you are no longer in government, I know you're no longer in government, but you've been in there. What can possibly be done?"

During the Brown interview O’Donnell also pressed the former director to repeatedly claim the administration asked him to lie:

O’Donnell: "You have recently given an interview to Playboy Magazine, in which you admitted that it was a mistake for you to play along with the White House message during Katrina and you said that, that message was a lie. What was the lie?"

Michael Brown: "The lie was that we were working as a team and that everything was working smoothly. And how we could go out, and I beat myself up almost daily for allowing this to have happened, to sit there and go on television and talk about how things are working well, when you know they are not behind the scenes, is just wrong."

O’Donnell: "So let me get this clear. Someone in the White House was telling you to lie?"

Brown: "Well, yeah, they give you the talking points. Whenever you go out to do any interviews they always have the talking points. Here`s what the message for today is and here`s how we are going to spin everything. That`s just the way Washington, D.C. works and that`s just wrong."

O’Donnell: "Did you, do you work for the White House or do you work for the American people?"

Brown: "Exactly I work for the American people."

O’Donnell: "Then why did you lie? And then if you say that they told you to lie, why did you carry that out?"

Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center.