KatrinaGate: Bush & Co. Getting Pummeled
As reported by the BBC yesterday, President Bush is finally seeing an American media that seems to have recovered its long lost spine. Ever since Bush took office five years ago, the media has treated him with kid gloves, lavishing on him the longest honeymoon in White House history. Despite political scandals, intelligence failures and an ill-conceived war, Bush has been the teflon president, slithering away unscathed where many others before have taken a beating. The reason for this is unclear, although it might be that the Bushies are terribly feared by the American press. No administration has ever been so political, so secretive and as vindictive to those it deems disloyal and who are not drunk on the proverbial Kool-Aid. And Bush never hesitated to publicly humiliate any reporter whose tough line of questioning got under his skin. But all that changed last week amid the horror and chaos of Hurricane Katrina's aftermath. The gloves are officially off. The media went from standard Bush complacency mode to moral indignation in zero to sixty. What we all saw was shell-shocked outrage from journalists who became part of the story instead of merely reporting it. The catastrophic scenes of utter panic, mass death, unprecedented destruction and monumental despair in places like New Orleans and Biloxi, Miss was the stuff nightmares are made of, and assaulted journalists right down to their emotional core.
From CNN's Anderson Cooper to NBC's Tim Russert, to NPR's Robert Siegel, to even the unabashedly partisan Fox News, journalists expressed an outrage towards the Bush administration, and to state and local officials, for failing miserably in the rescue and relief effort. They're also highly critical of Bush himself, especially for his lack of leadership in the initial hours and days of the crisis. He was characteristically slow in responding, seemed bizarrely out of touch with the gravity of the situation, and was emotionally vacant. Last week Cooper, interviewing Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu (D), bristled at her political filibustering about what Congress is doing to help: "Excuse me, Senator, I'm sorry for interrupting...because, for the last four days, I've been seeing dead bodies in the streets here in Mississippi. And to listen to politicians thanking each other and complimenting each other, you know, I got to tell you, there are a lot of people here who are very upset, and very angry, and very frustrated. And when they hear politicians slap, you know, thanking one another, it just, you know, it kind of cuts them the wrong way right now, because literally there was a body on the streets of this town yesterday being eaten by rats because this woman had been laying in the street for 48 hours. And there's not enough facilities to take her up. Do you get the anger that is out here? I mean, I know you say there's a time and a place for, kind of, you know, looking back, but this seems to be the time and the place. I mean, there are people who want answers, and there are people who want someone to stand up and say, "You know what? We should have done more. Are all the assets being brought to bear?"
On "Meet the Press" Sunday, Russert slammed Homeland Security head Michael Chertoff's attempts to duck accountability and defend the administration: "People were stunned by a comment the president of the United States made on Wednesday, Mr. Secretary. He said, "I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees." How could the president be so wrong, be so misinformed?.....I want to stay on this because this is very important. You said you were surprised by the levee being broken. In 2002, The Times-Picayune did story after story--and this is eerie; this is what they wrote and how they predicted what was going to happen. It said, and I'll read it very carefully: "...A major hurricane could decimate the region, but flooding from even a moderate storm could kill thousands. It's just a matter of time. ... The scene's been played out for years in computer models or emergency operations simulations... New Orleans has hurricane levees that create a bowl with the bottom dipping lower than the bottom of Lake Pontchartrain. ...the levees would trap any water that gets inside-- by breach, overtopping or torrential downpour--catastrophic storm. ... The estimated 200,000 or more people left behind in an evacuation will be struggling to survive. Some will be housed at the Superdome, the designated shelter for people too sick or inform to leave the city. ...But many will simply be on their own, in homes or looking for high ground. Thousands will drown while trapped in homes or cars by rising water. Other will be washed away or crushed by debris. Survivors will end up trapped on roofs, in buildings or on high ground surrounded by water, with no means of escape and little food or fresh water, perhaps for several days." That was four years ago. And last summer FEMA, who reports to you, and the LSU Hurricane Center, and local and state officials did a simulated Hurricane Pam in which the levees broke. The levees broke, Mr. Secretary, and people--thousands drowned..."
CNN reporter Miles O'Brien also unleashed the fury on Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, repeatedly invited the governor to agree that the federal government had "dropped the ball." And CNN's Jack Cafferty, as well as usual Bush softees Shepard Smith of Fox, MSNBC's Joe Scarborough of MSNBC, and NY Times columnist David Brooks, all aggressively commented on the colossally ineffective and embarrassing government response to the tragedy. Bush has also been harshly criticized by the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, NY Times and others. It's a resounding chorus of disapproval.
It's been a full week since Katrina first struck land, and there's still people needing rescue and evacuation. Further, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, who estimates the city's death toll at 10,000, now reports that the flood waters are contaminated with e.coli. The task ahead is monumental, to say the least. The Bush administration will keep spinning, keep trying to place blame on Nagin and Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D), and be relentless in trying to minimize the political fallout. But you can bet that in the days, weeks and months to come the focus on Bush's inept handling of the crisis will intensify, especially as Congress starts to investigate just how the greatest nation on earth could've so miserably failed to save its citizens from catastrophe. And I suspect the normally sedate media will be front and center leading the charge. Can you say, tipping point? Andy