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Daily Howler: Even when people are suffering and dying, they just won't stop making up facts
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THE JOY OF FAKE FACTS! Even when people are suffering and dying, they just won’t stop making up facts: // link // print // previous // next //

THERE’S NOTHING ABOUT MARY: We thought Chris Wallace was a bit unbalanced in the way he went after Mary Landrieu on yesterday’s Fox News Sunday. (Senator David Vitter, R-LA, appeared with her.) On the other hand, Landrieu’s performance was so utterly woeful that it deserves recording. Being good liberals, DAILY HOWLER readers care about the poor—and we care about little else. Surely, therefore, we will all want to condemn this senator’s hapless performance.

Wallace started with tape of Landrieu’s heartfelt statement on the floor of the Senate. “I intend to find out why the federal—particularly the response of FEMA—was so incompetent and insulting to the people of our states,” the solon had declared on Thursday. But uh-oh! Wallace wanted to know if Landrieu was troubled by the performance of local officials, too. Before we look at Landrieu’s response, here was his first specific question:

WALLACE (9/11/05): Senator Landrieu, I want to ask you—and I'll ask you both, but let me start with you about the local response. Was it “incompetent and insulting” for Mayor Ray Nagin to order a mandatory evacuation, but then to leave buses—and we have a picture of them—hundreds of buses idle, so that they could be flooded, instead of using them to get people out?
Here at THE HOWLER, we’d like to know more about the shortcomings of the city’s pre-flood evacuation. Should Nagin have had a better plan to get poor people out of their neighborhoods? In our view, Wallace’s question was confrontational, but perfectly sensible. But Landrieu’s answer was so absurd that—well, we’ll guess that any good liberal will find it “incompetent and insulting.” For starters, Landrieu pretended that she had been asked about two neighboring governors:
LANDRIEU (continuing directly): Well, Chris, I was there, as you know, through the whole ordeal with state and local officials, and was right there with Louisiana Democrats and Republicans, city council members, police chiefs, mayors, the governors, and could watch what [Mississippi governor] Haley Barbour was doing and Governor Riley in Alabama. I am not going to level criticism at the local level. These people did—
Say what? At this point, Wallace jumped in to get her on track. But Landrieu continued her wandering:
WALLACE (continuing directly): But I'd like you to answer, if you could, this one specific question.

LANDRIEU: Well, I will. I will answer it. I am not going to level criticism at local and state officials. Mayor Nagin and most mayors in this country have a hard time getting their people to work on a sunny day, let alone getting them out of the city in front of a hurricane. And it's because this administration and administrations before them do not understand the difficulties that mayors, whether they are in Orlando, Miami, or New Orleans, face.

Huh? Wallace tried to refocus Landrieu again. Amid endless [CROSSTALK], her point emerged. The problem was, the Bush Admin doesn’t believe in mass transit:
LANDRIEU (continuing directly): In other words, this administration did not believe in mass transit. They won't even get people to work on a sunny day, let alone getting them out—

WALLACE: But Senator, there were hundreds of buses sitting in that parking lot. Can I just ask the question?

LANDRIEU: You can, but let me finish, if I could, please.

WALLACE: Well, look in the picture here. There were hundreds of buses in parking lots. The city and the state—

LANDRIEU: That is underwater. Those—

WALLACE: It wasn't underwater before the—

LANDRIEU: Those buses were underwater. Those buses—

WALLACE: They weren't underwater on Saturday. They weren't underwater on Sunday.

Wallace was asking an obvious question: Why weren’t these buses used to evacuate poor people before the storm hit? But Landrieu pretended she didn’t understand. And now, she fell back on a much-ridiculed Mike Chertoff soundbite—New Orleans had been hit by twin disasters!
LANDRIEU (continuing directly): We had two catastrophes. We had a hurricane and then we had a levee break. When the levee broke, not only did New Orleans go underwater, but St. Bernard when underwater and St. Tammany Parish went underwater.

WALLACE: But they weren't underwater on Sunday.

LANDRIEU: And Plaquemines went underwater. And because the mayor evacuated the city, we had the best evacuation between Haley Barbour and Kathleen Blanco of any evacuation I've seen. I'm 50 years old; I've never seen one any better.

WALLACE: But there were a hundred thousand people left in the city.

LANDRIEU: They did a hundred thousand people left in the city because this federal government won't support cities to evacuate people, whether it's from earthquakes, tornadoes, or hurricanes. And that's the truth. And that will come out in the hearing.

In a prize fight, a referee would have stepped in and called the whole thing off. Already, this may have been the worst performance ever seen on a Sunday show. But now, Wallace posed his second question—and Landrieu’s response, if anything, was worse. Gaze on the caliber of public official now defending the interests of the poor:
WALLACE: Senator Vitter, do you think it was—and I'll get you in this in a moment, Senator Landrieu—do you think it was “incompetent and insulting” for Governor Blanco not to bring in the federal guard—or, the National Guard, rather—into the city of New Orleans in force until Friday of that first week?


WALLACE: Senator Landrieu?


WALLACE: Yes or no?

The die had been cast—how had Blanco performed? Wallace had asked an obvious question. But just try to believe Landrieu’s “answer:”
LANDRIEU (continuing directly): Well, let me add something about our Guard and Reserve. We have 3,000 Guardsmen coming back from Iraq after they've served, sometimes twice. Our General Landreneau (ph) has said that he's giving them a break. Thank God we have such a good leader. They need a break. They need to get with their families—many of them, their homes are destroyed.

I read in the paper this morning, alarmingly, that the Mississippi governor is not going to allow the Mississippi Guard, or whoever is making that decision. And I'll plead for the Mississippi, for the Alabama Guard, and for the Louisiana Guard: please give these guys a break. They're carrying the weight of the world, literally, on their shoulders.

And we cannot continue to burden the Guard and Reserve. Now, some of them can volunteer; that's great. But we have to be very careful about putting that burden on them.

Asked about Governor Blanco’s performance; she replied by discussing Governor Barbour’s, raising a wholly irrelevant point. But to see how hapless this solon can be, just check out what she said next:
LANDRIEU (continuing directly): And let me say one thing I do agree with David about—and we agree with many things; he and I have worked very closely together this week: Everyone will be held accountable. The president himself will be held accountable. This administration; I will be held accountable; Senator Vitter will be held accountable; and all state and local officials. Now is not the time for finger-pointing. Now is the time to rebuild. So, I'm asking the White House to stop sending out press releases blaming local and state officials.
Now is not the time for finger-pointing? Landrieu had been “finger-pointing” all week! Indeed, Wallace had just played the tape of her finger-pointing statements! Landrieu’s response was completely absurd. And Wallace, quite fairly, said as much:
WALLACE: OK, thank you. But you're the one who's done the finger- pointing. You were the one who, on the Senate floor, talked about the federal response being “incompetent and insulting” to the people of Louisiana. You were the one—if I might—and, I want to ask you, also, because you've also pointed the finger at the Bush administration for failing to spend enough on flood control. Here's what you said this week on the Senate floor. Let's take a look...
Wallace asked two more questions—one about Landrieu’s past conduct concerning some alleged pork, one about the amount of flood control spending requested by Presidents Clinton and Bush. The pork allegation was so obscure that even Landrieu could handle the query. But here’s what she said about flood control spending by Clinton and Bush:
LANDRIEU: Number one, it is true that the president gave slightly more than Bill Clinton. But what is also true is Bill Clinton was running the largest deficit created by the Reagan administration before him and the Bush administration before him.

President Bush was running a surplus. Yet, when he had a surplus, he didn't invest it in levees and flood protection for people from Miami to Orlando to New Orleans to Biloxi or to Mobile. He had other priorities. And I have a letter I will submit to Fox Network.

But is that true? On Friday, Media Matters said that the Washington Post bungled when it made this claim about Clinton/Bush spending. (Wallace cited the Post in his question.) Who’s right about this? We have no idea. But would you bet your house on Landrieu?

We thought we’d seen some hopeless Sunday outings, but Landrieu really took the cake. The answers she gave were cosmically fake. Surely, every viewer could see it. A word came to mind about her performance. Because you care about the interests of poor people, perhaps you can guess it: Insulting.

THE JOY OF FAKE FACTS: For our money, Andrea Mitchell and Chris Matthews gave the best recitation. By Friday night, everyone knew the latest script; the gang was piling on Michael Brown, the inept, unqualified Bush Admin crony who still serves as FEMA head. And you know how your “press corps” is! Once they’ve all agreed on a script, they all begin to improve basic facts! Their jobs become easier; their story gets better; and it lets them stroke their thighs a bit faster. By this time, everyone else had said it. So Mitchell and Matthews faked it too:

MITCHELL (9/9/05): The worst moment, I think, for Michael Brown was when he first went on with Brian Williams on Nightly News, I think a week ago Wednesday, and had no idea what was going on—it was Wednesday or Thursday—no idea what was going on in the Convention Center, when everybody had been watching it on television, live, for 24 hours.


MITCHELL: I mean, that is when reporters and anchor people like Brian and yourself and Tim Russert became just incredulous.

MATTHEWS: Right. He must have watching a horse show or something.

MITCHELL: And—no, it was—

MATTHEWS: Because he was wasn`t paying attention to the—

MITCHELL: Exactly!

MATTHEWS: What he used to be doing for a living is running the Arabian horse association.

By now, everyone had made this pleasing claim—had said that Michael Brown didn’t know about the Convention Center “when everybody had been watching it on television, live, for 24 hours” (more examples below). For our money, though, we loved this performance, in which Mitchell included an inaccurate plug for Nightly News and praised the press corps for making things “very apparent”—even as she took her turn misstating some basic facts! And of course, we loved Clown Matthews, jumping in with his own biting humor. The dumbest man on the face of the earth now got to take a pot-shot at Brown! “He must have watching a horse show or something,” this dumb, fake, uncaring man said.

Yes, everyone had already said it (or soon would)—Koppel, Wallace, Frank Rich, Maureen Dowd. And as usual, what they said just wasn’t true—it was their latest embellishment! Here, for example, was hapless old Koppel, faking it on that Thursday’s Nightline. Listen as a multi-millionaire prig misstates the facts once again:

KOPPEL (9/1/05): Earlier this evening I spoke with Mike Brown, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency... I asked about the discrepancy between FEMA's estimate of the number of people at the convention center and the mayor's estimate.

(Videotape, to Brown) One of you is wrong. It's either 5,000 or 15,000. Do you know?

BROWN: Actually, I have sent General Honore of the First Army to find out exactly the truth of what's down there because we first learned of the convention center, we—we being the federal government—today. And he says the number's around 25,000.

KOPPEL: Okay. So, it, it sounds as though the mayor, who said 15 to 25,000, was closer in touch. I've heard you say during course of this evening on a number of interviews you just found out about it today. Don't you guys watch television? Don't you guys listen to the radio? Our reporters have been reporting about it for more than just today.

“Don't you guys watch television?” the phony man scolded. “Our reporters have been reporting about it for more than just today.” But in fact, Ted’s reporters had not been reporting it until that day; according to the Nexis archives, ABC’s first mention of the Convention Center occurred at 2:30 that afternoon (9/1), in a George Stephanopoulos “Special Report.” Before that, the Convention Center had never been mentioned on Nightline. It had never been mentioned on World News Tonight. It had never been mentioned on Good Morning America. According to Nexis, ABC viewers first learned about the Convention Center at mid-day Thursday—just like Brown, who Koppel scolded in his latest inaccurate report.

And you know how the millionaire end of the modern “press corps” works! Now that Koppel had opened the gates, everyone knew to rush through them! For example, does anyone fake facts any better than Frank Rich? In 1997, he and Maureen Dowd invented the gong-show Love Story flap—a fake-fact story which, several years later, would be used to send hapless Bush to the White House. Now, in the Times, he had more fun, running with Koppel’s fake story:

RICH (9/4/05): The captain in this case, Michael Chertoff, the homeland security secretary, was so oblivious to those on the lower decks that on Thursday he applauded the federal response to the still rampaging nightmare as ''really exceptional.'' He told NPR that he had ''not heard a report of thousands of people in the convention center who don't have food and water''—even though every television viewer in the country had been hearing of those 25,000 stranded refugees for at least a day.
Now, it was Rich’s turn to play dumb-ass. He referred to Chertoff’s 9/1 interview with NPR’s Robert Siegel—the taped interview in which Chertoff learned, for the first time, about the crowds at the Convention Center. But according to Rich, “every television viewer in the country had been hearing of those 25,000 stranded refugees for at least a day”—and this statement is blatantly false, as Rich’s “facts” routinely are. What was the real chronology here? Through Wednesday night (8/31), no network news show had mentioned the Convention Center, and there had been one brief report on cable about the problem developing there. At 10:20 PM Eastern, Michelle Hofland broke the bad news on Scarborough Country:
HOFLAND (8/31/05): We are hearing some really frightening stories tonight down at the convention center, where everyone has been told, go down there. You can get some medical treatment; we will be able to get you out of town. So, we have seen people walking for miles, carrying their suitcases, carrying everything that they have left, desperate to get someplace, and also to try to let their family members know across the country that they are still alive.

Well, we are told that down there, at that convention center, it is absolute chaos. We haven`t been down there, Joe, because we are told that it`s just not a safe place to be. So, you have families with children and everything down at that convention center. Cars are being car-jacked. And there`s no one there, we are told, to take care of the thousands of people who are there.

This was the first cable report about the chaos at the Convention Center. Earlier in the evening, CNN’s Chris Lawrence had briefly mentioned, on two shows (Anderson Cooper/Paula Zahn), that there were 3000 people at the Center. But had “every television viewer in the country been hearing of those 25,000 stranded refugees for at least a day?” As usual, Rich was making it up. Indeed, readers of Rich’s mighty Times didn’t know about the Convention Center on September 1 either; the mighty paper didn’t mention the Center until Friday morning (9/2). Ditto the Washington Post. In fact, the Convention Center had been AWOL on TV—and in our big newspapers.

The real chronology? By Wednesday night, two cable reporters had begun to hear that people had gathered at the Center. No one had been there with a camera. No newspaper had reported the problem—nor had any network mentioned it. But so what! Rich and Dowd and Koppel and Matthews have been embellishing facts for years! Just for the record, here’s how Chris Wallace bungled the facts on Fox News Sunday:

WALLACE (9/4/05): Mr. Secretary, you know there are an awful lot of people around the country that are asking these questions and want to hear answers from you today. During the week, during this past week, you seemed to minimize or not to know about a lot of the problems on the ground in New Orleans. Let's watch some of those, sir...

CHERTOFF (tape from 9/1 NPR interview): I have not heard a report of thousands of people in the Convention Center who don't have food and water.

WALLACE: Mr. Secretary, how is it possible that you could not have known on late Thursday, for instance, that there were thousands of people in the Convention Center who didn't have food, who didn't have water, who didn't have security, when that was being reported on national television?

CHERTOFF: Well, Chris, you know, that's one of the issues we have to look at. I mean, we were in constant touch with what was going on in the field, getting information from state and local officials. As it happened on that very Thursday, I was in a videoconference with state officials and didn't get any information about this. And one of the things we will look at is, why it is in the middle of this emergent crisis there was kind of a conflict in the information.

But Chertoff’s interview didn’t occur “on late Thursday;” it aired on the NPR evening show, All Things Considered, but the interview had been taped earlier that day. Was FEMA still clueless “on late Thursday?” By Thursday afternoon, Brown was talking about the things FEMA had allegedly done after it got the information. And just for the record, here’s what he told Brian Williams that night. Mitchell misstated that too:
WILLIAMS (9/1/05): But you know you had 20,000, 30,000 absolutely miserable people in the Astrodome with no basic human needs and—and now that you are moving on the convention center, give us some hours, give us some hope. When?

BROWN: Well, that's moving along actually pretty darn well. We have a supply of buses moving in. We're moving people out on a steady stream, by all modes of transportation to get them out of that shelter. We have food moving in there. They've been fed every day. They've been fed this morning. There are more trucks moving in there to feed them this evening. And I think the American people need to know this is a catastrophic disaster for the city of New Orleans and for this country. And for all of those people that have--I mean their--their lives have been upended. They have nothing. They have no place to go. So we owe it to them to get that supply chain moving even quicker than it is and continue to move it.

Brown knew all about the Convention Center when he spoke to Williams that night. But it felt much better to say that he didn’t, say Mitchell invented another fake fact—just as these clowns always do.

Why didn’t FEMA know about the Convention Center by Wednesday night or Thursday morning? Chertoff said they hadn’t been told by local officials; for ourselves, we’ll wait for more reporting. But as usual, your lazy, half-assed millionaire “journalists” didn’t feel like waiting for facts! Having decided that Brown was the target, they invented a pleasing tale—a pleasing tale with embellished facts, the only kind of “fact” they really love.

What was the real chronology? In fact, the first real reporting about the Convention Center broke on cable on Thursday, September 1; it had barely been mentioned before that, and the first video turned up on Thursday afternoon. It didn’t appear in newspapers until Friday. But so what? Your powdered “journalists” always improve the facts in these utterly pleasing cases. This time, they played the pseudo-lib side—but, as always, they embellished their “facts.” Even when people are suffering and dying, they just won’t stop making up facts.

FOR THE RECORD: Here was Dowd’s thigh-rubbing version, from Saturday:

DOWD (9/10/05): The breakdown in management and communications was so execrable that the president learned about the 25,000 desperate, trapped people at the New Orleans convention center not from Brownie, who didn't know himself, but from a wire story carried into the Oval Office by an aide on Thursday, 24 hours after the victims had been pleading and crying for help on every channel. (Maybe tomorrow the aide will come in with a wire story, "No W.M.D. in Iraq.")

"Getting truth on the ground in New Orleans was very difficult," a White House aide told The Times's Elisabeth Bumiller. Not if you had a TV.

Is there a bigger horse’s ass on earth? When she invented the Love Story crap, it helped put hapless Bush in the White House. Now, she decided to pose as a lib. But as always, Maureen Dowd faked the facts.