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Eight Big Lies About Katrina

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  • Robert Sterling
    Please send as far and wide as possible. Thanks, Robert Sterling Editor, The Konformist http://www.konformist.com Eight Big Lies About Katrina By Jeremy
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 22, 2005
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      Please send as far and wide as possible.

      Robert Sterling
      Editor, The Konformist

      Eight Big Lies About Katrina
      By Jeremy Schulman and Raphael Schweber-Koren, Media Matters for
      Posted on September 9, 2005

      In the past week, Bush administration officials and conservative
      commentators have repeatedly used the national media to spread
      misinformation about the federal government's widely criticized
      response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina.

      1. Bush: "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees"

      On the Sept. 1 broadcast of ABC's Good Morning America, President
      Bush told host Diane Sawyer, "I don't think anybody anticipated the
      breach of the levees" that protected New Orleans from flooding. As
      Media Matters for America has noted, Sawyer did not challenge Bush's
      claim, despite numerous, repeated warnings by government officials,
      experts and the media that a major hurricane could cause levee
      breaches resulting in catastrophic flooding. A September 2 New York
      Times front-page article repeated Bush's false claim without
      challenge -- even though a Times editorial the same day
      declared, "Disaster planners were well aware that New Orleans could
      be flooded by the combined effects of a hurricane and broken levees."

      A Sept. 5 CNN.com article reported that Secretary of Homeland
      Security Michael Chertoff falsely told reporters that "planners" did
      not predict a breach of the levees that would flood the city. As
      CNN.com reported, Chertoff said, "That 'perfect storm' of a
      combination of catastrophes exceeded the foresight of the planners,
      and maybe anybody's foresight." But unlike the Times, CNN.com noted
      that "officials have warned for years that a Category 4 [hurricane]
      could cause the levees to fail." The CNN.com article added that in
      an August 31 interview on CNN's Larry King Live, Federal Emergency
      Management Agency (FEMA) director Michael Brown said, "That Category
      4 hurricane caused the same kind of damage that we anticipated. So
      we planned for it two years ago. Last year, we exercised it. And
      unfortunately this year, we're implementing it." But in the same
      Larry King Live interview, Brown responded to complaints that rescue
      efforts were not moving quickly enough by insisting, "And I must say
      this storm is much, much bigger than anyone expected."

      Additionally, as journalist Joshua Micah Marshall noted on Talking
      Points Memo, National Hurricane Center director Max Mayfield "talked
      about the force of Katrina during a video conference call to
      President Bush at his ranch in Crawford, Texas" on August 28 [St.
      Petersburg Times, 8/30/05]. The Washington Post quoted Mayfield on
      September 6: "They knew that this one was different. ... I don't
      think Mike Brown or anyone else in FEMA could have any reason to
      have any problem with our calls. ... They were told ... We said the
      levees could be topped."

      2. Chertoff strained credulity in defense of Bush, claimed levee
      breaks and massive flooding came as a surprise -- more than 12 hours
      after local media reported them

      On Sept. 4, Chertoff appeared on NBC's Meet the Press and attempted
      to explain Bush's discredited claim that "I don't think anybody
      anticipated the breach of the levees." After host Tim Russert asked
      Chertoff how the president could "be so wrong, be so misinformed,"
      Chertoff suggested that Bush had been referring to newspaper reports
      the morning after the storm that New Orleans had "dodged a bullet"
      because the eye of the storm had passed to the east of the city. But
      more than 12 hours before the appearance of those headlines in
      print, a post on the weblog of the New Orleans Times-Picayune --
      dated August 29, 2 p.m. CT -- reported, "City Hall confirmed a
      breach of the levee along the 17th Street Canal at Bellaire Drive,
      allowing water to spill into Lakeview." This initial report on the
      Times-Picayune weblog was followed throughout the afternoon and
      evening of August 29 by reports of other levee breaks and massive

      While Chertoff said he recognized that the city's levee system
      failed sometime Monday night or Tuesday morning -- in fact, the
      first breaks occurred earlier, as noted above and as Think Progress
      noted in its detailed Hurricane Katrina timeline -- he insisted
      that "it was midday Tuesday that I became aware of the fact that
      there was no possibility of plugging the gap and that essentially
      the lake [Pontchartrain] was going to start to drain into the city."
      According to Chertoff, this "second catastrophe really caught
      everybody by surprise" and was a major reason for the delay in the
      government's emergency response.

      Questioning Chertoff further, Russert pointed out that the Times-
      Picayune published a five-part series in June 2002, in which it
      warned that if a large hurricane hit New Orleans, the city's levees
      would likely be topped or broken -- resulting in catastrophic
      flooding and thousands of deaths. Russert added that "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. ... Thousands drowned."

      Chertoff then clarified, "What I said was not that we didn't
      anticipate that there's a possibility the levees will break. What I
      said was, in this storm, what happened is, the storm passed and
      passed without the levees breaking on Monday. Tuesday morning, I
      opened newspapers and saw headlines that said 'New Orleans Dodged
      the Bullet,' which surprised people. What surprised them was that
      the levee broke overnight and the next day and, in fact, collapsed.
      That was a surprise."

      Even accepting as true Chertoff's incredible suggestion that he --
      the secretary of Homeland Security -- and the president of the
      United States relied on the print media for their information on the
      situation in New Orleans, as Think Progress points out, had
      administration officials "bothered to read the full text of the
      three articles they found with favorable headlines, they would have
      realized that federal government help was needed immediately."
      Moreover, while Chertoff did not indicate which headlines he was
      referring to, many newspapers -- in addition to the Times-Picayune --
      did report on broken levees and significant flooding. For example,
      on August 30, the Los Angeles Times reported that a levee break had
      occurred by late morning August 29, with water from the break "spill
      [ing] through the area, flooding the town's two main shelters and
      swamping the local National Guard armory, leaving even public safety
      officials homeless."

      Or Chertoff could have turned on the television. On the August 30
      broadcast of NBC's Today, NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams
      reported at 7:05 a.m. ET, "There has been a huge development
      overnight ... the historic French Quarter, dry last night and it is
      now filling with water. This is water from nearby Lake
      Pontchartrain; the levees failed overnight."

      Indeed, Chertoff's and Bush's professed ignorance notwithstanding,
      the federal government was well aware of the continuing threat of
      the levees breaking. Just hours after the storm passed on Monday,
      August 29, FEMA director Brown confirmed that the potential for
      catastrophic flooding remained. In an interview with Brown, NBC
      Today co-host Matt Lauer noted, "In New Orleans, in particular,
      they're worried about the levees giving way or the canals not
      holding, and they're worried about toxic runoff." Brown responded
      that even though the storm had weakened, there was still a 15- to 20-
      foot storm surge causing "the water out of Lake Pontchartrain and
      the Gulf and the Mississippi continue to converge upon Louisiana."
      Brown added, "So we're still ready for a major disaster."

      3. Brown: "We've provided food to the people at the Convention
      Center so that they've gotten at least one, if not two meals, every
      single day"

      On the Sept. 2 broadcast of NBC's Today, FEMA director Brown told
      host Katie Couric, "We've provided food to the people at the [New
      Orleans' Morial] Convention Center so that they've gotten at least
      one, if not two meals, every single day." Couric did not challenge
      this statement.

      But on Sept. 1, NBC News photojournalist Tony Zumbado reported on
      MSNBC Live:

      ZUMBADO: I can't put it into words the amount of destruction that is
      in this city and how these people are coping. They are just left
      behind. There is nothing offered to them. No water, no ice, no C-
      rations, nothing, for the last four days. They were told to go to
      the convention center. They did, they've been behaving. It's
      unbelievable how organized they are, how supportive they are of each
      other. They have not started any melees, any riots. They just want
      food and support. And what I saw there I've never seen in this
      country. We need to really look at this situation at the convention
      center. It's getting very, very crazy in there and very dangerous.
      Somebody needs to come down with a lot of food and a lot of water.

      4. Chertoff: "Apparently, some time on Wednesday, people started to
      go to the convention center spontaneously"

      On the Sept. 1 edition of CNN's Paula Zahn Now, Brown
      claimed, "Every person in that convention center, we just learned
      about that today [Thursday, September 1]." During a September 4
      interview with Chertoff on CNN Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer, host
      Blitzer replayed Brown's comments. In response, Chertoff said:

      CHERTOFF: Well, I mean, this is clearly something that was
      disturbing. It was disturbing to me when I learned about it, which
      came as a surprise. You know, the very day that this emerged in the
      press, I was on a video conference with all the officials, including
      state and local officials. And nobody -- none of the state and local
      officials or anybody else -- was talking about a convention center.
      The original plan, as I understand it, was to have the Superdome be
      the place of refuge, of last resort. Apparently, some time on
      Wednesday, people started to go to the convention center

      Chertoff's claim that hurricane survivors sought refuge in the
      convention center under their own initiative echoed his September 4
      Meet the Press interview, in which he suggested, "We became aware of
      the fact at some point that people began to go to the convention
      center on their own, spontaneously, in order to shelter there."
      Chertoff's statements were false, but neither Blitzer nor Russert
      challenged them.

      Though scenes of thousands of hurricane victims awaiting water,
      food, and buses at the convention center were not broadcast on
      television until Thursday, Sept. 1, Chertoff and Brown would have
      had access to media reports about the convention center before then.
      As early as Aug. 29, Times-Picayune staff writer Bruce Nolan wrote
      an article for the Newhouse News Service in which he reported, "City
      officials said they might open the Ernest N. Morial Convention
      Center as a temporary refuge to shelter an estimated 50,000 people
      made homeless by the storm." Nolan's article appeared in the Times-
      Picayune on August 30.

      Beginning Aug. 31, other reports of survivors at the convention
      center emerged:

      Knight Ridder, Aug. 31: "Derwin DeGruy had been kicked out of two
      hotels, the first on Sunday right before the storm hit, and the
      second one on Tuesday morning after it hit. He and about 50 other
      people found makeshift shelter on a ramp leading to the mall and
      parking garage at the New Orleans Convention Center. They rigged
      places for people to go to the bathroom, pooled their water for the
      babies, placed some blankets on the concrete and decided to wait
      and see what happened."

      Associated Press, August 31: "The 37-year-old banker -- who admitted
      to looting some food from a nearby supermarket -- said the hotel
      guests were told they were being taken to a convention center, but
      from there, they didn't know."

      Associated Press, Aug. 31: "After several hours, a small fleet of
      rented moving trucks showed up to take the people to the downtown
      convention center so they could be taken out of the city. Police
      herded people up metal ramps like cattle into the unrefrigerated

      By Sept. 1, when Brown claimed FEMA first learned about the
      situation at the convention center, TV networks were broadcasting
      footage of thousands of survivors waiting for water, food, and
      evacuation buses. Despite Chertoff's later insistence that New
      Orleans residents "spontaneously" converged on the convention
      center, the September 1 broadcast of ABC's Nightline included
      footage of a law enforcement official instructing survivors to go

      SURVIVOR: Ain't nobody helping us.


      SURVIVOR: No, ain't nobody doing anything for us.

      LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICIAL: Y'all got to go to the convention center.

      5. Chertoff pointed fingers: "New Orleans officials and the state
      officials ... called for the Superdome to be the refuge of last

      In his Sept. 4 interview on NBC's Meet the Press, Chertoff attempted
      to place blame for the conditions at the Superdome solely with state
      and local officials. Chertoff asserted, "My understanding is, and
      again this is something that's going to go back -- we're going to go
      back over after the fact -- is the plan that the New Orleans
      officials and the state officials put together called for the
      Superdome to be the refuge of last resort."

      But this claim is misleading at best. As The Washington Post
      reported on September 3, a FEMA official acknowledged participating
      in meetings in which the plan to use the Superdome as a shelter for
      thousands of evacuees was discussed:

      Brown, the agency's director, told reporters Saturday in Louisiana
      that he did not have a sense of what was coming last weekend.

      "I was here on Saturday and Sunday, it was my belief, I'm trying to
      think of a better word than typical -- that minimizes, any hurricane
      is bad -- but we had the standard hurricane coming in here, that we
      could move in immediately on Monday and start doing our kind of
      response-recovery effort," he said. "Then the levees broke, and the
      levees went, you've seen it by the television coverage. That
      hampered our ability, made it even more complex."

      But other officials said they warned well before Monday about what
      could happen. For years, said another senior FEMA official, he had
      sat at meetings where plans were discussed to send evacuees to the
      Superdome. "We used to stare at each other and say, 'This is the
      plan? Are you really using the Superdome?' People used to say, what
      if there is water around it? They didn't have an alternative," he

      Moreover, the plan to use the Superdome as a shelter for evacuees
      was widely known. The 2002 Times-Picayune series on the potential
      for a catastrophic hurricane reported that of the estimated 200,000
      New Orleans residents who would likely remain in the city, "[s]ome
      will be housed at the Superdome, the designated shelter in New
      Orleans for people too sick or infirm to leave the city."

      6. Chertoff falsely minimized federal government's role in Katrina
      response as subordinate to states

      The Bush administration has responded to criticism of its role in
      the Katrina disaster by attempting to deflect blame onto state and
      local officials in Louisiana [The New York Times, 9/5/05 ]. One way
      they are doing that is to claim that the federal government's role
      in a natural disaster of this magnitude is to provide support to
      state and local governments and work at their behest. Conservative
      media figures immediately fell into line, echoing the
      administration's claim that the federal government's role was
      subordinate (see here and here). In fact, the Department of Homeland
      Security's December 2004 National Response Plan clearly indicates
      that in these situations, the federal government will pre-empt state
      and local efforts and provide immediate assistance to the affected

      On Sept. 1, two days after the levees were breached, Chertoff, at a
      press conference announcing the start of "National Preparedness
      Month 2005," characterized the federal role in response to Katrina
      as that of providing support to state and local officials: "The
      Department of Homeland Security will continue to work with federal,
      state and local partners to support efforts on the ground in
      Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida. We are working
      tirelessly to make sure that federal resources are being applied
      where they are needed all across the Gulf" [Federal News Service,
      9/1/05]. But on Sept. 2, Chertoff told reporters that the situation
      had changed and that federal agencies would now take over the
      primary role: "The fact of the matter is, this set of catastrophes
      has broken any mold for how you deal with this kind of weather
      devastation, and so we're going to break the mold in terms of how we
      respond. The federal government is not going to play merely its
      customary role in giving all necessary support to first responders.
      The federal government is going to step up and take a primary role,
      working with state and locals to deal with the outcome of this
      tragedy." [National Public Radio, 9/3/05]

      But Chertoff's Sept. 1 statement ignored the administration's own
      homeland security response plan, which directed the federal
      government to act on its own authority to quickly provide assistance
      and conduct emergency operations following a major catastrophe, pre-
      empting state and local authorities if necessary. According to DHS'
      December 2004 National Response Plan (NRP), "catastrophic events,"
      such as what occurred in New Orleans, call for heightened
      and "proactive" federal involvement to manage the disaster. The
      response plan listed "guiding principles" to govern the response to
      these major events. The "Guiding Principles for Proactive Federal
      Response" make clear that, in these "catastrophic" cases, the
      federal government will operate independently to provide assistance,
      rather than simply supporting or cajoling state authorities:

      The primary mission is to save lives; protect critical
      infrastructure, property, and the environment; contain the event;
      and preserve national security.

      Standard procedures regarding requests for assistance may be
      expedited or, under extreme circumstances, suspended in the
      immediate aftermath of an event of catastrophic magnitude.

      Identified Federal response resources will deploy and begin
      necessary operations as required to commence life-safety activities.

      Notification and full coordination with States will occur, but the
      coordination process must not delay or impede the rapid deployment
      and use of critical resources. States are urged to notify and
      coordinate with local governments regarding a proactive Federal

      State and local governments are encouraged to conduct collaborative
      planning with the Federal Government as a part of "steady-state"
      preparedness for catastrophic incidents."

      The NRP also says that, when responding to a catastrophic incident,
      the federal government should start emergency operations even in the
      absence of clear assessment of the situation. "A detailed and
      credible common operating picture may not be achievable for 24 to 48
      hours (or longer) after the incident," the NRP's "Catastrophic
      Annex" states. "As a result, response activities must begin without
      the benefit of a detailed or complete situation and critical needs

      A Sept. 5 Los Angeles Times article quoted former FEMA chief of
      staff Jane Bullock saying that "[t]he moment the president declared
      a federal disaster [on Aug 29], it became a federal
      responsibility. ... The federal government took ownership over the
      response." Moreover, DHS' own website declares that DHS "will assume
      primary responsibility on March 1st [2005] for ensuring that
      emergency response professionals are prepared for any situation.
      This will entail providing a coordinated, comprehensive federal
      response to any large-scale crisis and mounting a swift and
      effective recovery effort."

      7. Wash. Post, Newsweek, Gingrich falsely claimed that Blanco did
      not declare a state of emergency

      In recent days, two news articles falsely reported that Louisiana
      Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco had failed to declare a state of
      emergency, which had supposedly hampered the federal response. An
      article in the Sept. 13 edition of Newsweek claimed that "Louisiana
      Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco seemed uncertain and sluggish,
      hesitant to declare martial law or a state of emergency, which would
      have opened the door to more Pentagon help." Likewise, a Sept. 4
      Washington Post article incorrectly claimed that "As of Saturday
      [Sept. 3], Blanco still had not declared a state of emergency,"
      citing an anonymous senior Bush administration official. (The
      Washington Post's article was later corrected, although Newsweek has
      yet to correct its article.) Fox News political analyst Newt
      Gingrich repeated the point on the September 5 O'Reilly Factor,
      saying, "As you [O'Reilly] point out, the governor [Blanco] failed
      to call the emergency. And initially, it was the governor who had to
      call an emergency." In fact, as the Post later noted, Blanco
      declared a state of emergency (PDF) on August 26.

      8. Gingrich falsely claimed that Nagin could "have kept water pumped
      out" of city had he ensured that pumps worked

      On the Sept. 5 O'Reilly Factor, Gingrich also claimed that if New
      Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin had been able to keep the New Orleans
      pumps working, the flood waters could have been pumped out of the
      city. "[F]irst of all, the mayor of New Orleans had a real
      obligation to make sure the four pumps could work. Three of them
      didn't. It would have kept water pumped out." In fact, New Orleans
      has 22 "notoriously fickle" pumping stations, according to an Aug.
      31 New York Times article. The Times also reported that, according
      to Dr. Shea Penland, a coastal geologist, "When the pumping systems
      are in good shape, it can rain an inch an hour for about four to six
      hours and the pumps can keep pace. More than that, the city floods."
      The Times also noted that "[e]fforts to add backup power generators
      to keep [the pumps] all running during blackouts have been delayed
      by a lack of federal money."

      A June 2002 Times-Picayune article, part of a series exploring the
      probable consequences of a major hurricane hitting New Orleans,
      indicated that New Orleans' pumps would have been overwhelmed by the
      rapidly rising floodwaters:

      Soon waves will start breaking over the levee.

      "All of a sudden you'll start seeing flowing water. It'll look like
      a weir, water just pouring over the top," [Louisiana State
      University engineer Joseph] Suhayda said. The water will flood the
      lakefront, filling up low-lying areas first, and continue its march
      south toward the river. There would be no stopping or slowing it;
      pumping systems would be overwhelmed and submerged in a matter of

      "Another scenario is that some part of the levee would fail,"
      Suhayda said. "It's not something that's expected. But erosion
      occurs, and as levees broke, the break will get wider and wider. The
      water will flow through the city and stop only when it reaches the
      next higher thing. The most continuous barrier is the south levee,
      along the river. That's 25 feet high, so you'll see the water pile
      up on the river levee."

      Jeremy Schulman and Raphael Schweber-Koren are members of the
      research department at Media Matters for America.
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