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Daily Howler: Mr. O gets a chance to cut through the spin when he interviews Condi tonight
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HIJACKING RICE! Mr. O gets a chance to cut through the spin when he interviews Condi tonight: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 14, 2005

HOMER ON KELO: Over the course of the past seven years, we have increasingly come to see that Homer pretty much got it right. He had the gods looking down on us mortals, chuckling at our reliable clowning. And yes, we thought of the poet this morning when we heard John Roberts testify further. Sam Brownback asked Roberts about the Kelo decision. The Post’s live blog records what we heard:
POST BLOG (9/14/05): Roberts yesterday had said he did not want to comment on potential future cases. In refraining to give his views about Kelo, he used a somewhat different approach, saying because the case "was just decided last year," he wasn't going to discuss it.

"If the issue does come back before the court, " Roberts said, "I need to address it without previously commenting on it."

But why does he need to do that? Every current sitting justice has “previously commented” on the issue in Kelo; indeed, they wrote the decisions on Kelo this year! All of them have “previously commented”—so why does Roberts “need” to be different? There may even be an answer to that. But our public discussion is so crabbed that the question will never be asked.

Homer’s gods were amused by such matters. Why should we be different?

DODGING THE BULLET: We human beings live to embellish. We love to take a few hard facts and “improve” them until they become something better. Why else would the Post’s Jim VandeHei open a front-page report like this?

VANDEHEI (9/14/05): President Bush yesterday said he takes personal responsibility for the federal government's stumbling response to Hurricane Katrina, as his White House worked on several fronts to move beyond the improvisation of the first days of the crisis and set a long-term course on a problem that aides now believe will shadow the balance of Bush's second term.
But why did he add that highlighted word? In paragraph 2, VandeHei reports the words Bush actually said in his grudging, comically halting statement:
VANDEHEI (continuing directly): "Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government," Bush said at a White House news conference with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. "And to the extent that the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility. I want to know what went right and what went wrong.”
“I take responsibility,” Bush grudgingly said, in a comically halting manner. VandHei tossed in a strengthening word because—well, because we humans just do that! Elsewhere, we saw other journalists beef up the story. On this morning’s Today show, for example, we saw the tape of Bush’s statement run over a chyron: THE BUCK STOPS HERE. This connected his halting statement to our most iconic example of take-charge conduct. And on last evening’s Hardball, Chris Matthews marveled at “stunning” statement.

Yes, we humans love to embellish. We love to rearrange hard facts to make a story better. Indeed, given the endless disasters of the Bush Admin, it’s hard to believe that we have to “improve” facts to tell the world how inept this man is. But Bush’s critics have tended to do it—unwisely, we think, in the end.

With that in mind, let’s get a few more facts on the record. On Monday, someone finally asked Bush about his odd early statement about Katrina—his statement that “no one anticipated the breach of the levees.” He made this odd statement to ABC’s Diane Sawyer, who failed to ask him what he meant. But now, two weeks later, someone finally asked. Bush’s answer was fairly weak—but it wasn’t completely inaccurate:

QUESTION (9/12/05): Did [briefers] misinform you when you said no one anticipated the breach of the levees?

BUSH: No. What I was referring to is this: When that storm came by, a lot of people said we dodged a bullet. When that storm came through at first, people said, "Whew." There was a sense of relaxation. And that's what I was referring to.

And I myself thought we had dodged a bullet. You know why? Because I was listening to people probably over the airwaves say, "The bullet has been dodged." And that was what I was referring to.

Of course, there were plans in case the levee had been breached. There was a sense of relaxation at a critical moment. And thank you for giving me a chance to clarify that.

That answer is weak—but it isn’t as factually bogus as some have suggested. On the day Katrina hit, some people did say, “over the airwaves,” that New Orleans had just dodged a bullet. According to Nexis, Brian Williams was first to do so. The handsome anchor reported live on that morning’s Today show:
MATT LAUER (8/29/05): Brian, although the major winds have now subsided or are subsiding in New Orleans, I know the, the people there at the Superdome and other shelters throughout New Orleans are prepared to house these people for hours, if not days. What are the people inside being told about how long they may be there?

WILLIAMS: Well, you've just put your finger on the--what I think is the biggest problem, the biggest deficit: There's no PA system. We're running on generators here. There's no effort to disseminate information. Very few radios and portable televisions, and we're inside, basically, a concrete structure. It's impossible to know. Most of them can sense that the storm has died down, but they don't know that New Orleans dodged the big bullet from—from Katrina, and didn't get the worst of the storm.

LAUER: All right. Brian Williams is at the Superdome in New Orleans for us this morning. Brian, as always, thanks very much.

And Williams wasn’t alone in saying that New Orleans had dodged a bullet. On that afternoon’s Talk of the Nation, NPR’s John Burnett used the same image:
NEAL CONAN (8/29/05): What is it like, from what you can tell, outside?

BURNETT: Well, I think the best description was—it was the best eventuality of the worst possible scenario. They dodged the bullet, but they still got a sound bruising. There is—the levee, the famed levee, the hundred and thirty-mile levee that surrounds the city of New Orleans has been breached by this storm in a couple of places. One would be the Lower 9th Ward, the Jackson Barracks, which they're very concerned about. We heard reports of people on rooftops, people trying to batter their way out of attics with axes. But that's not widespread. I think we're hearing more flooding on the order of one to maybe three feet. In a lot of places, there's really no—there's no flooding at all.

Moments later, Conan returned to the bullet-dodging theme:
CONAN: Now as I understand it, you said, in a way, the city dodged a bullet. The storm made a track slightly to the east of the city, and that puts New Orleans on the weaker side of the storm, but there's been concern all day about what happens if it could whip up the water on Lake Pontchartrain and drive that into the city of New Orleans.

BURNETT: Well, frankly, I think that would have happened if it was going to happen in a big way. I mean, we know that there has been some leakage from Pontchartrain and maybe some small failure of some of the levee, but nothing on the order of, you know, the images that the computer models—where they had, you know, 10 feet of water in Jackson Square, up to the doors on the St. Louis Cathedral. I mean, that didn't happen.

Conan asked about the folk in the Superdome.. “Hopefully, by the end of the day, you know, it'll be possible for some folks to come out,” Burnett said, “but you know how the authorities are in these situations. They're very, very cautious, and they really don't want people venturing back to their homes until they've tested bridges and they've, you know, tested power lines and everything is safe.” Moments later, Conan spoke with Colonel Pete Schneider, a Louisiana emergency official. “Well, it sounds like you had a pretty good bird's-eye view there,” the colonel told Conan. “What we're hearing is we kind of did dodge a bullet. We dodged that bullet that we were planning for.”

With these facts on the table, the story comes clear. Most likely, Bush was spending his usual Monday in Crawford, lounging about in his brush-clearing costume as he listened to NPR. Or who knows? He might have watched MSNBC that evening. Shortly after 6 PM Eastern, meteorologist Sean McLaughlin told Dan Abrams about that bullet:

MCLAUGHLIN (8/29/05): We go back in time, boy, it seems like a long time ago, but early this morning, landfall, 7:10 a.m. Eastern Daylight, as a Category 4 hurricane, sustained winds 140-miles-an-hour at the surface. Buras, it`s a very small, little town down there in southeast Louisiana and watch that eye wall. New Orleans really dodged the bullet. Unfortunately, the good news for New Orleans meant bad news for Biloxi.
Indeed, even at 10 PM Eastern, the president could still have been hearing this message. Aaron Brown bit the bullet on CNN:
AARON BROWN (8/29/05): If there's a silver lining in all of this—it seems a little silly to say it that way—New Orleans, a city that lives below sea level for the most part, dodged a direct hit, sparing it a catastrophic day in devastation than many people just 24 hours ago feared. But its good fortune, in fact, turned into other people's pain. Mississippi—Gulfport, Mississippi, Biloxi, Mississippi, became the bulls-eye instead.
Luckily, Brown would soon get corrected. Who wiped the smile off the anchor’s face? Speaking just a few minutes later, Michael Brown—“Brownie”—no relation, put that dodged bullet in its place:
MICHAEL BROWN (8/29/05): Well, Aaron, I'm just beginning to get that wide -angle view and I've got to tell you, it's very, very sobering. I've had some folks out on the reconnaissance helicopters, in fact, some of them were on the helicopters that started doing the rescues from the rooftops.

And I think what we see is, sure, New Orleans dodged the bullet, in the sense that the catastrophic disaster we thought would occur downtown, moved slightly to the east, 30 or 40 miles. But what that meant is that we now have literally neighborhood after neighborhood that is totally engulfed in water.

We still have water coming into those neighborhoods and so my honest assessment is, is that we have a major disaster here where people are not going to be able to get into their homes for weeks, if not months. Right now as we speak, I just talked to some swift-water experts that I brought in from California, the California Urban Search and Rescue Teams. They've now deployed down to the Superdome area to start staging. They are very, very sober right now. They think they have a very daunting task in front of them.

It was “Brownie” to the rescue! But down in Crawford, Bush had been tuned to NPR, where—what else?—he’d been misled again! The next day, he flew to San Diego, where he received that electric guitar. Will John Burnett take “personal responsibility” for the harm he caused us that day?

MR. O’S CHANCE TO SHINE: Bill O’Reilly toughened his description of Bush’s hurricane failures last night. But tonight, Mr. O gets his real chance to shine. Yesterday, under cover of windstorm, the Bush Admin finally released secret portions of the September 11 commission’s report. And uh-oh! Eric Lichtblau, on the Times page one, serves us a naughty factoid:

LICHTBLAU (9/14/05): American aviation officials were warned as early as 1998 that Al Qaeda could "seek to hijack a commercial jet and slam it into a U.S. landmark," according to previously secret portions of a report prepared last year by the Sept. 11 commission. The officials also realized months before the Sept. 11 attacks that two of the three airports used in the hijackings had suffered repeated security lapses.
Say what? It can’t be true! After all, Darling Condi told the nation, in May 2002, that no one had ever dreamed such a thing! “I don’t think anybody could have predicted that these people…would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile,” Imperfect Rice said. In fact, there had been endless reports of such a possibility—reports should have known all about (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/4/03). But as far as we know, no scribe has ever asked their darling about her utterly puzzling statement. With this week’s brand-new information, Mr. O gets a perfect chance.

Mr. O loves to fight through the guff. He believes in holding their feet to the fire. And you know there is no spin involved. Our eager analysts expect to cheer when Bill asks his Darling the question.