Monday, September 12, 2005

Fool Me Twice

On Friday, I overheard some acquaintances discussing the federal government's (and specifically Bush's) performance following Katrina. My ears perked up because I'd previously heard one of the parties make comments dismissive of the poor — and now he was saying: "This can't be pinned on Bush. The governor of Louisiana didn't declare a state of emergency, which she needed to do before the Feds could come in." It was her incompetence, he implied, not FEMA's, that caused the breakdown.

Blame the locals has been the party line — starting with a White House official's claim about Gov. Kathleen Blanco that was published in both the Washington Post and Newsweek — then repeated and repeated by the rightwing machine, which contrasted Mississippi Republican Governor Haley Barbour's prompt declaration.

Only one problem. It was a lie. No, two problems. It was a lie that could have been caught by simple fact checking. Blanco and Barbour issued declarations on the same day, August 26th.

It gets worse for the White House, which apparently screens the President's calls when they come from Democratic governors whose states are in the path of a hurricane, according to this Time magazine report via Kevin Drum:

The day the storm hit, she [Gov. Blanco] asked President Bush for "everything you've got." But almost nothing arrived, and she couldn't wait any longer. So she called the White House and demanded to speak to the President. George Bush could not be located, two Louisiana officials told Time, so she asked for chief of staff Andrew Card, who was also unavailable. Finally, after being passed to another office or two, she left a message with DHS adviser Frances Frago Townsend. She waited hours but had to make another call herself before she finally got Bush on the line. "Help is on the way," he told her.


I don't really blame the guy for repeating an untruthful but reputably reported factoid that supported his political point of view. But it's pathetic that we can't rely on our government to be truthful in an emergency — or for major media to get simple facts right when leaders lie for political effect.

There was another side to that conversation at the next table — a former Bush supporter was saying: "For 58 years I've been apathetic about politics. I'm not any more. I'm mad as hell."

And he wasn't talking about the officials in Louisiana.

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