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Daily Howler: Roberts can't opine about Roe, Lane said--and he offered some fractured press logic
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IL RECUSE! Roberts can’t opine about Roe, Lane said—and he offered some fractured press logic: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 13, 2005

PRIG PILE: We know—some of our readers don’t like these posts. Some of us have developed a taste for inaccurate tales of our own. But we’ve chronicled this aspect of press corps culture over the course of the past seven years—and for that reason, low, mordant chuckles rang through our vast halls as we read the Post’s editorial this morning. After a mocking headline—Goodbye, ‘Brownie’—the Post ran to misstate:
WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL (9/13/05): No one will be sorry or surprised to learn that Michael D. Brown, formerly the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, intends to spend more time with his family. Mr. Brown will be forever remembered as the man who, at the height of the New Orleans evacuation crisis, appeared not to know that 25,000 people were crammed into the city's convention center without food, water or toilets, despite television reports broadcasting that fact for the previous 24 hours.
As we’ve asked you over the years: If these prigs didn’t really exist, could you ever imagine them?

Three points:

1. It was Michael Chertoff, not Michael Brown, who “appeared not to know that 25,000 people were crammed into the city's convention center” on Thursday, September 1. Indeed, Chertoff didn’t appear not to know—he flatly said that he didn’t know, in an NPR interview. (Later on Thursday, Brown confirmed the fact that FEMA hadn’t known about the Convention Center until that day.) But Chertoff is still a powerful player. So the Post prig-piles on “Brownie,” and drops Chertoff’s name from the mix.

2. Chertoff’s interview occurred mid-day Thursday (September 1). But as we’ve noted, the Post is simply wrong when it says that television reports had been broadcasting the facts about the Convention Center “for the previous 24 hours.” In fact, the first brief report about “chaos” at the Convention Center appeared on TV late Wednesday night (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/12/05). It was broadcast by MSNBC’s Michelle Hofland—who hadn’t even been to the Center yet to confirm what she had heard. Real news coverage began Thursday morning—hours before Chertoff’s interview.

3. Chertoff didn’t know about the Convention Center on Thursday. But someone else didn’t know about it—readers of the Washington Post! Despite television reports [allegedly] broadcasting that fact for the previous 24 hours,” the Post said nothing, on Thursday morning (9/1), about the chaos at the Center. Nor had the Center been mentioned on Wednesday. “One of the most squalid and desperate situations unfolded at the city's fetid Ernest M. Morial Convention Center,” Sam Coates reported on Friday morning, September 2—the Post’s first mention of the matter. The New York Times also mentioned the Center for the first time in that morning’s edition. Mayor Nagin’s “desperate SOS” about the Center was issued on Thursday afternoon.

But so what? As always, your press corps is having some good, solid fun with this pleasing, prig-pile story. Chertoff is powerful, so he gets a pass—but everyone knows to land on Brown. In the process, the Post evokes low, mordant chuckles as it reports what has ever been true: Given the way our press corps works, “Mr. Brown will be forever remembered” for something that didn’t occur!

NAGIN’S EXPLANATION: Yesterday, we chided Mary Landrieu for her performance on Fox News Sunday, in which she persisted in changing the subject when asked about Nagin and Kathleen Blanco. Some readers felt we should have included Nagin’s explanation for the use—or non-use—of those now-submerged municipal buses. Why weren’t school buses used to evacuate the poor? On Fox News Sunday, Landrieu gave a bewildering “explanation” when this obvious question was asked. On Meet the Press, though, Nagin said this when he was asked the same question:

RUSSERT (9/11/05): We've all see this photograph of these submerged school buses. Why did you not declare, order, a mandatory evacuation on Friday, when the president declared an emergency, and have utilized those buses to get people out?

NAGIN: You know, Tim, that's one of the things that will be debated. There has never been a catastrophe in the history of New Orleans like this. There has never been any Category 5 storm of this magnitude that has hit New Orleans directly. We did the things that we thought were best based upon the information that we had. Sure, here was lots of buses out there. But guess what? You can't find drivers that would stay behind with a Category 5 hurricane, you know, pending down on New Orleans. We barely got enough drivers to move people on Sunday, or Saturday and Sunday, to move them to the Superdome. We barely had enough drivers for that. So sure, we had the assets, but the drivers just weren't available.

That was Nagin’s explanation, and we assume it “will be debated.” But we weren’t trying to judge what Nagin had done; we were recording Landrieu’s hapless performance, in which, by the way, she completely refused to defend either Nagin or Blanco. What did Nagin and/or Blanco do that was right or wrong? At this point, we simply can’t tell you. But we can tell you this—Landrieu’s performance was a disaster. We’re tired of being “represented” like that, and we’re astonished when Dems and libs stand in line to cheer such incompetence.

For our money, we’ve never understood the facile claim that those buses should have been used to evacuate poor people from New Orleans. Evacuate poor people where? You can’t pile people into buses, then drive them around until the storm passes. If New Orleans didn’t have pre-planned shelters to take people to, there could have been no evacuation. As usual, facile pundits have thrown off this claim—but it hasn’t made much sense to us. We’re still waiting for informed analysis of the pre-storm New Orleans plan.

Meanwhile, we’ve always liked Landrieu—but we’re sick of seeing Dems go on TV and perform like that. As we said, her performance may have been the worst we’ve ever seen. Why should Democrats tolerate this? We think her outing was a disgrace. We’re amazed when others say, Good enough.

IL RECUSE: In our view, Judge Roberts has already suffered enough, sitting through all those senatorial speeches. Let’s borrow some favorite pundit lingo: Clearly, Roberts is willing to do and say anything to make his way to the Court. But even before those endless orations, we were struck by Chuck Lane’s statement about Roberts and Roe v. Wade. A caller to C-SPAN’s Washington Journal said that Roberts should be required to state his views on the case. As a general matter, we agree. But Lane expressed a different view—a familiar view which has never seemed to make any real sense to us:

LANE (9/12/05): Well, the dilemma of this situation is that everybody wants to know this, everybody wants to know about it, and yet if Judge Roberts were to declare flatly at his hearing, “I would vote to overturn Roe. v. Wade,” the decision that established, or recognized, the constitutional right to choose abortion, he would then be in a position where he might have to recuse if such a case came to the Court later on because the person bringing the case could sday, “He’s already said how he’ll vote.” So in a way, Judge Roberts, just like many others who have come before the Court, face that essential dilemma.
But where’s the dilemma? Surely, Roberts knows whether he thinks Roe was correctly decided. If he thinks it was wrongly decided, he must know, as a general matter, whether he thinks the decision should stand as a matter of “settled law.” (Indeed, he called Roe “settled law” in his confirmation hearing for the District Court.) Would Roberts have to recuse later on if he said what he thought about Roe? We can’t imagine why. As matters stand, sitting Justices like Scalia and Thomas have openly said, in prior rulings, what they think of Roe v. Wade; indeed, in a January 30 Post profile, Lane himself described Scalia as “an opponent of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that established a constitutional right to abortion.” Does anyone think that Scalia’s prior statements would force him to recuse in the future? The notion is completely absurd—and yet the logic is widely applied to Roberts, as Lane does above.

Lane expressed a familiar view—a view that seems to make no sense. But then, our Washington poobahs seem to think that any question is OK for Roberts—unless the question is actually relevant. We often marvel at press corps logic. Yesterday, we marveled again.