Daily Archives: September 2, 2005

“It’s not my job to flak for the White House or anyone else– “

whines Pravda’s Terry Neal in one of the rag’s boilplate on-line “chats.”

Hey we know it’s not your job, Terry. At the moment it’s Peter Baker’s :

ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE, Aug. 31 — As his blue-and-white jet swooped low over New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, President Bush pressed his face against the window and stared out at oblivion.

Polish that apple! Polish that Apple!

He saw an expansive lake where a storied city used to be. He saw mile after mile of flattened houses turned into so many matchsticks. He saw highways that disappeared into water, a train plucked off its track, a causeway collapsed into rubble. And he saw the next daunting challenge to confront his presidency.

And that, of course, is the real tragedy for the likes of Baker. After all, what this disaster is really about has been obvious for quite some time .

And that’s why BushCo operatives have been quick to spring into action to change the subject — as in this excerpt from Terry’s “chat”:

Fairfax, Va.: Terry, I’m sick of seeing this nonsense about the Corps of Engineers budget being cut last year. As we saw with the floods upstream on the Mississippi/Missouri some years ago, the levee system is unsustainable in a truly large disaster. Period. Without spending tens of billions of dollars to raise New Orleans up by 40 feet, and built levees 200 feet high and 300 feet thick, they just aren’t going to stand up to the worst that Mother Nature can dish out. And even if we did, we’d need to do it again in 20 years. One year of budget cuts did not cause this problem.

Terry Neal: I’m not sure you are correct about that. Look, I’m not an engineer, but I know that the Army Corps of Engineers has been saying for years that the levees should be and can be strengthened to handle at least a category 4 storm, I believe.
In an excellent column yesterday, AP political reporter Ron Fournier noted that Congress just pushed through, and Bush signed a $284 billion highway bill that included more than 6,000 pork barrel projects for lawmakers. Among them was $231 million for a bridge to an uninhabited island in Alaska. Fournier noted that that was more than double the $105 million that Army Corps of Engineers sought for improvements hurricane and flood improvements for New Orleans.

The White House slashed the request to $40 million and the Congress finally approved $42 million.

How the heck can the government justify this? That is a totally legitimate question to ask of the nation’s elected leaders, I think. That what democracy is about.

And it would be if this were a democracy — which it most assuredly isn’t. That’s where Peter Baker comes in, to reminding us that it’s all essentially theater.

While critics accused Bush of being slow to recognize the horrible scale of the damage wrought by Hurricane Katrina on Monday, he moved Wednesday to reassert his public leadership role and reassure the American people that he is in charge. After his 35-minute flyover along the Gulf Coast, he raced back to Washington, met his disaster relief team in the White House and strode into the Rose Garden to address the nation.

“This is going to be a difficult road,” Bush said, flanked by Cabinet secretaries, and he rattled off statistics to illustrate all the federal government is doing to help. “The challenges that we face on the ground are unprecedented. But there’s no doubt in my mind we’re going to succeed.”

The words echoed the language Bush used through much of his August vacation whenever he emerged from the ranch to defend his handling of the Iraq war, and it reflected his leadership style. In times of calamity, he seeks to project an air of undiminished confidence regardless of the dark circumstances. He fashions himself a take-charge leader who thrives at making decisions that he never second-guesses even if they do not turn out the way he imagined them.

Yes my fellow citizens (I trust you won’t mind my taking such a familiar tone), taking action is a secondary concern. The important thing is for the President to “project an image.”

“The can-do stuff, relating to some physical or material problem, is something he can do — he has strength there,” said Fred I. Greenstein, a scholar at Princeton University who has long studied presidential leadership. “I think this a more natural thing for him than the other cerebral stuff.”

See? This is Our Free Press at work. Rather than bore you with facts (“Stupid Things,” as the sainted Ronald Reagan memorably noted,) a real reporter rushes to his nearest University and, armed with info supplied by his favorite “Think Tank,” looks for a suitable “scholar” to provide the right “information”

“Our citizens must understand this storm has disrupted the capacity to make gasoline and to distribute gasoline,” Bush cautioned in the Rose Garden, shortly after television pictures showed long lines at Atlanta gas stations charging as much as $5 per gallon.

But if Bush will be judged by his response in the weeks ahead, aides acknowledged that he is constrained by limited options. He decided Wednesday to tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which could hold down the increase in gas prices marginally, but other than monitoring for price gouging, a senior White House official said, there is little else Bush can do.

Oh I can think of a few things he can do.
And I’m sure you can as well

The president has more levers to pull to help hurricane victims, and he is mindful of the lessons from his father’s administration when it was criticized in 1992 for responding too slowly to Hurricane Andrew in Florida. Bush plans to visit the Gulf Coast on Friday or Saturday to inspect the damage.

The president used his trip back from Texas to get a sneak preview, observing the arc of devastation from aboard Air Force One en route to Washington. Col. Mark Tillman, the chief pilot, took the plane down from its cruising altitude of 29,000 feet and skimmed just 1,700 feet above the ground at one point.

“It’s devastating,” Bush told aides as he flew over New Orleans. “It’s got to be doubly devastating on the ground.”

Ya Think?

As he reached Mississippi, Bush saw the other most devastated area around the towns of Waveland and Pass Christian, where there was not much water but many miles of wooden houses smashed into scrap lumber as far as the eye could see. “It’s totally wiped out,” Bush said.

Of course what Bush really said was “I’m wiped out,” before he passed out, as he so often does — frequently hitting his head on the furniture in the process. Lucky for him Air Force One is properly cushioned.

Elsewhere there’s been much talk of the New York Times suddenly discovering its cajones :

George W. Bush gave one of the worst speeches of his life yesterday, especially given the level of national distress and the need for words of consolation and wisdom. In what seems to be a ritual in this administration, the president appeared a day later than he was needed. He then read an address of a quality more appropriate for an Arbor Day celebration: a long laundry list of pounds of ice, generators and blankets delivered to the stricken Gulf Coast. He advised the public that anybody who wanted to help should send cash, grinned, and promised that everything would work out in the end.

Lovely. But until Elizabeth Bumiller is fired and the relentless pimping for Judy Miller ceases, there’s no reasons to believe this editorial is anything more than a blip on the radar.

And if things get too hot they can always hire Deb Saunders for “balance” — Tierney being such a “leftist”and all

Or, that failing, they could take a “middle of the road” route:

“It’s difficult, but necessary, for reporters to be detached,” says CBS’s Marcy McGinnis, senior v.p., news coverage.

The CBS flak was addressing recent unscripted outbursts of genuine human feeling from such unlikely likes as Leslie Blitzer and Tim-Mah. Thank goodness we can still count on Cokie.

“It would be irresponsible for me to go. I need to… take care of my mother. I can’t be hot-shotting in New Orleans like some kid.”

Or like Anderson Cooper, so “unprofessional” in his distress.

TV reporters also found themselves in the surreal position of telling the very people they were covering that they knew nothing and consequently had no way of helping them. CNN’s Anderson Cooper, who’s been reporting from Mississippi all week – and recently reported on the mass starvation in Niger – said in a phone interview yesterday that “it’s shocking to see this happening in the United States [and] see bloated corpses out on the street for 48, 72 hours that, you know, have been eaten by rats … People keep asking, ‘Where is the Army or the National Guard?’ and I don’t have an answer for them.

And this from a man who saw his own emotionally-troubled brother leap to his death.

Hey, maybe that should have disqualified Coop from becoming a reporter in the first place. He “feels” too much. And what’s worse, thinks about things.

By contrast Tim Rutten is wise to lurking fourth estate dangers:

These days, media criticism has become a kind of blood sport.

Can I get a “No shit, Sherlock!” ?

One of its practitioners’ most frequently repeated complaints is that mainstream news organizations have become increasingly–if not solely–reactive, retailing the sensation of the moment to an audience hooked on titillating irrelevancies.

Well that didn’t happen here.

Oh I’m sure editors everywhere did their level best to squeeze Natalee Holloway into this story somehow.

Three years ago, New Orleans’ leading local newspaper, the Times-Picayune, National Public Radio’s signature nightly news program, “All Things Considered,” and the New York Times each methodically and compellingly reported that the very existence of south Louisiana’s leading city was at risk and hundreds of thousands of lives imperiled by exactly the sequence of events that occurred this week. All three news organizations also made clear that the danger was growing because of a series of public policy decisions and failure to allocate government funds to alleviate the danger.

The Times-Picayune, in fact, won numerous awards for John McQuaid and Mark Schleifstein’s superbly conceived and executed five-part series — that’s right, five-part

“Well hooray for the Bulldog,” as Dorothy Commingore once quipped

– whose initial installment began with a headline reading: “It’s only a matter of time before south Louisiana takes a direct hit from a major hurricane. Billions have been spent to protect us, but we grow more vulnerable every day.” One of the separate stories in that first installment — each part consisted of multiple pieces supported by compelling graphics — began: “The risk is growing greater and no one can say how much greater.”

Evidently Dubbya didn’t read the Times-Picayune. Nor did he pay attention to any of the other information about asituation that clearly could have been averted had action been taken.

Politics may have failed the people of New Orleans. Politicians certainly failed them. They may have failed themselves by not demanding better. But their newspaper and other important segments of the American press did not fail them.

The obsequious fealty of the fourth estate to BushCo, ever-so-cleverly overlooked.

Nowadays, it often seems like every other third person with access to a mike or computer is a press critic, who thinks that their particular beef could be resolved by simply resorting to the good old-fashioned practice of shooting the messenger.

Yes, Sondheim (as usual) said it best:

“What a wonder is a gun!
What a versatile invention!
First of all when you’ve a gun —
Everybody pays attention
When you think what must be done
Think of all that it can do.”

What’s the matter folks? Don’t you like musical comedy?

Now where did I put that gun?