NPR's Mara Liasson Apologizes for Comparing Cash for Clunkers to Katrina Response

August 9th, 2009 9:05 AM

NPR ombudsman Alicia Shepard has focused again on what NPR reporters say on Fox News. Reporter Mara Liasson infuriated the liberal listeners of the taxpayer-funded network when she proclaimed on Tuesday's Special Report that "Cash for Clunkers is like a mini-Katrina here," Liasson said. "It's not good to start a government program and not be able to execute it."

Liasson quickly acknowledged she "crossed a line" in comparing Bush's hurricane response to Obama's eco-friendly initiatives:

"I said something really stupid, which I regret," Liasson told me. "I should have merely said anytime time the government does something less than competent, it makes it harder to get people to trust them with other programs. People died in Katrina because of government incompetence. I should not have used that as an analogy. I was thinking of an example of government incompetence and I picked one that was too big and egregious. I was over the top in my choice of a metaphor. It was a mistake."

NPR's senior vice president for news, Ellen Weiss, said, "If this had been said live on NPR's air, we would have redone the interview, and we would have acknowledged and apologized for what was said in earlier feeds both on the air and online."

This is how Shepard described the internal NPR outrage:

Say what? Nearly 2,000 people died and thousands more were injured or lost their homes during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The Bush administration's inability to help hundreds of thousands of people in New Orleans after Katrina is considered one of the greatest recent examples of government incompetence.

It is inconceivable anyone could compare that disaster to Cash for Clunkers, which simply gives people a voucher worth up to $4,500 to trade in an old car for a newer, more fuel-efficient vehicle.

Emails have been pouring into my office.

"Cash for Clunkers" is an innovative, socially and economically beneficial program that has been slowed only by its unforeseeable degree of success," wrote Tom Gleason of Lawrence, KS. "Hurricane Katrina was an epic tragedy aggravated by government inaction. If Ms. Liasson (on Fox News) finds any basis at all to analogize between the two she needs to go to work for Fox News full time."

It doesn't occur to anyone inside the NPR bubble that it sounds a bit partisan or anti-Bush to proclaim the federal government was unable to help "hundreds of thousands of people" in the aftermath of a hurricane, or allow that perhaps many of the dead and injured were harmed by the storm, not by George W. Bush. It also fails to allow that many thousands were rescued by the government. For someone who's supposed to be nonpartisan, Shepard really failed here to distinguish between hard fact and one of the most fiercely held anti-Bush propaganda points.