For the Bush spin machine, the dual disaster of Hurricane Katrina and the official response to it presented a rare instance where the facts proved hard to manipulate.
The idea was to push blame away from the White House and toward Louisiana Democrats like Governor Kathleen Blanco. But suddenly, the dog wouldn’t wag. The props, the carefully stage-managed Bush photo opportunities, the anonymous White House quotes smearing local officials, kept unraveling just as fast as the spinners can issue them. And they just keep unraveling. Here are a few examples.
Correction to This Article:
A Sept. 4 article on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina incorrectly said that Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D) had not declared a state of emergency. She declared an emergency on Aug. 26. “
The quote may have revealed a blatant White House effort to steer the “blame
game” toward the Democratic governor (all the while directing the
White House and its supporters to respond to critics, as if in chorus, with
variations of the pious phrase, “Now’s not the time to play the blame game.”)
Or maybe not. “Should the paper identify the source who provided bad information?” Washington Post columnist Howard Kurtz asked. To which the story’s co-author Spencer Hsu replied, “We don’t blow sources, period, especially if we don’t have reason to believe the source in this case actually lied deliberately.”
Naturally, such safe presidential photo opportunities, however artificial, were preferred to the risks of Bush meeting with the flood’s most acute—and angry—mostly black victims. As a “prominent African-American supporter of Mr. Bush who is close to Karl Rove,” told the New York Times’ Elizabeth Bumiller:
“If I’m Karl, do I want the visual of black people hollering at the president as if we’re living in Rwanda?”
Many of the firefighters were having none of it. And ultimately, the White House removed Brown from Katrina duties on Friday, turning the operation over to a Coast Guard official, Vice Admiral Thad W. Allen.
As tens of thousands of troops from the National Guard and the 82nd airborne were finally deployed to New Orleans days after the worst of the flooding and the majority of lives lost, NBC’s Brian Williams recorded the scene on the network’s blog. “Yesterday afternoon, I watched a column of troopers from the 82nd Airborne march down Bourbon Street, which was empty . . . save for the occasional hotel worker hosing down the sidewalk,” he wrote. “It can be said absent slant, ideology or opinion that the security presence in much of central New Orleans is in response to lawlessness that no longer exists.”
The cavalry had come, but far too late. And the whole world knew it.