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Did Newsweek get spun

Did Newsweek get spun too?

One way or another, let's get this straightened out once and for all.

As we've discussed over the course of the day, the Washington Post ran an article today in which they reported, on the say-so of an unidentified "senior Bush official", that as late as yesterday Louisiana Gov. Blanco still hadn't gotten around to declaring a state of emergency. This, allegedly, had prevented a more rapid federal response.

Only this claim seemed to be belied by a copious public record, not least of which was the actual declaration of a state of emergency dated August 26th, 2005, available on the state of Louisiana website.

The falsity of what the "senior Bush official" told the Post apparently turned out to be so patently obvious that before the day was out the Post issued a correction, noting Blanco's declaration on the 26th.

Yet the new issue of Newsweek says this of Blanco, as of September 1st, almost a week later ...

Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco seemed uncertain and sluggish, hesitant to declare martial law or a state of emergency, which would have opened the door to more Pentagon help.


Now, all the rights and wrongs of this tragic debacle will turn on weightier facts than the day on which Blanco issued this declaration. But this claim, which appeared in two major national publications, seems to be patently false. In both the Post and Newsweek the anecdote appears as an illustration of Blanco's dawdling which prevented a more rapid federal response.

The Post got played by a senior administration official. Pretty odd that Newsweek would come up with the same false anecdote on their own, right?

Who's Newsweek's source?

For all the horror

For all the horror of what went on at the Superdome and the convention center in New Orleans, we know so much about those cases because they were central points. There were lots of journalists there and thus lots of coverage. But before too much more time goes by, I want to call your attention to a post Ed Kilgore did a few days ago at his site, in which he excerpted this passage from the blog currently being run by the New Orleans Times-Picayune ...

About 100 people have died at the Chalmette Slip after being pulled off their rooftops, waiting to be ferried up the river to the West Bank and bused out of the flood ravaged area, U.S. Rep. Charles Melancon, D-Napoleonville, said Thursday.

About 1,500 people were at the slip on Thursday afternoon, where critical supplies like food and water are scarce, he said. Melancon expressed serious frustration with the slow pace of getting these items to the people waiting to finish their journey to safety. Many of those at the slip were evacuated from a shelter set up at Chalmette High School that suffered massive flooding as the waters rose during Hurricane Katrina. Melancon said people are being plucked out of their water-surrounded houses, but the effort to get them out of Chalmette and provide them with sufficient sustenance is the problem.


A hundred people. Precise numbers <$NoAd$> are very difficult to nail down in the short-term under such circumstances. And the very round number suggests an estimate. But unless this story is wholly false, dozens of people died not of drowning or even before being rescued, but simply because they couldn't be moved from one way station to the next.

Why do people drop dead like this? Presumably a disproportionate number were old and at risk, or people with chronic illnesses without access to their medication. Depending on the circumstances, dehydration and/or dysentery probably played an important role. Whatever the details, how many stories like this will there be?

Check out this document

Check out this document that Larry Johnson has found, a National (disaster) Response Plan that the administration promulgated last December which seems to say explicitly that in the event of a catastrophic disaster the federal government need not wait for any explicit request for the local authorities in the affected regions.

Lesson learnedEarlier today we

Lesson learned?

Earlier today we noted that in today's papers the Post passed on a claim from a "senior Bush official" that "as of Saturday [i.e.,Sept.4], [Gov.]Blanco still had not declared a state of emergency."

As TPM -- and probably half the blogosphere -- pointed out, there is voluminous information in the public record showing this to be demonstrably false.

The Post just ran this correction ...

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.


Good for them for correcting the record. But are they going to be taking more blind quotes from this senior official who got them to pass on misinformation to their readers?

And one other point: for all the truly foolish chattering about anonymous sources and blind quotes a few months ago, this is a terrific example of the worst sort of anonymous sourcing. This claim by the administration official was obviously meant to place blame on Gov. Blanco. There's nothing necessarily wrong with that. Maybe she deserved blame. Reporters frequently have to rely on interested parties to bring key information to their attention.

But in this case, this is a straightforward factual assertion. What you do in such a case is find out whether it's true or not. If it is, you don't need to source it to your tipster. You run it as a fact. What you don't do is take an interested party's say-so on an easily verifiable claim and run it as a blind quote.

In light of the

In light of the post immediately below we've set up a thread over at TPMCafe to document, discuss and dissect that storm of disinformation the White House is putting out today to pass the buck on the debacle in New Orleans. Let us know what you heard on the Sunday shows, post links to the documents that contradict, etc.

Its almost awe-inspiring to

It's almost awe-inspiring to see the level of energy and coordination the Bush White House can bring to bear in a genuine crisis. Not hurricane Katrina, of course, but the political crisis they now find rising around them.

As we noted yesterday, the storyline and the outlines of the attack are now clear: pin the blame for the debacle on state and local authorities.

So, let's get all the facts out on the table now. And let's not be afraid to let them all fall where they may. There's no need to make saints of Gov. Blanco or Mayor Nagin. In such a storm of error as this, it would not surprise me if they made a number of them too. But the reason you have a federal government and particularly a FEMA in cases like this is that it is in the nature of local and state authorities to be at least partly overwhelmed in disasters of this magnitude. Read what Ed Kilgore wrote a couple days ago at TPMCafe ...

Anyone who's been involved in a disaster response episode will tell you the first few days are characterized by absolute chaos. Basic logistics are fouled up; communications systems are paralyzed; a thousand urgent needs must be triaged; a vast welter of well-meaning but tunnel-visioned federal, state and local agencies, plus private charitable organizations and volunteers, rush in; local elected officials are forced in front of cameras to inform and reassure the affected population. Somebody has to be in charge of the chaos, and that's FEMA's job.


This is just one of the many reasons why the White House's main excuse -- that the locals didn't tell us what to do -- is such a grim joke.

But let me, just for starters, focus in on one specific case. Administration officials gave a series of blind quotes for an article that appeared in today's Washington Post.

One passage reads as follows ...

Louisiana did not reach out to a multi-state mutual aid compact for assistance until Wednesday, three state and federal officials said. As of Saturday, Blanco still had not declared a state of emergency, the senior Bush official said.


I don't have the details yet <$Ad$> on the first point about the multi-state mutual aid compact. The state authorities seem to be saying that there was little point in making the request since the nearby states were also hit by Katrina. Indeed, this article says that Blanco accepted an offer of National Guard troops from New Mexico on Sunday, but that the paperwork didn't arrive from Washington until Thursday.

But let's focus in on the second point. Had Blanco still not declared a state of emergency as late as yesterday?

On the state of Louisiana website you can find this letter Gov. Blanco sent to President Bush on August 28th, that was last Sunday, just on the eve of the hurricane's landfall. (Here's the PDF and here is a text transcription.) Basically the letter is a laundry list of requests for aid and assistance from the federal government, invoking various laws, and so forth.

Some of the key passages include ...

Under the provisions of [the relevant federal law], I request that you declare an emergency for the State of Louisiana due to Hurricane Katrina for the time period beginning August 26, 2005, and continuing ... In response to the situation I have taken appropriate action under State law and directed the execution of the State Emergency Plan on August 26, 2005 in accordance with Section 501 (a) of the Stafford Act. A State of Emergency has been issued for the State in order to support the evacuations of the coastal areas in accordance with our State Evacuation Plan ... Pursuant to 44 CFR § 206.35, I have determined that this incident is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the State and affected local governments, and that supplementary Federal assistance is necessary to save lives, protect property, public health, and safety, or to lessen or avert the threat of a disaster ...


The referenced state declaration of emergency was apparently declared on August 26th, that is, the Friday before landfall.

There's also this Statement on Federal Emergency Assistance for Louisiana, which appears on the White House website dated August 27th, which begins: "The President today declared an emergency exists in the State of Louisiana and ordered Federal aid to supplement state and local response efforts in the parishes located in the path of Hurricane Katrina beginning on August 26, 2005, and continuing."

Key excerpts include ...

The President's action authorizes the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to coordinate all disaster relief efforts which have the purpose of alleviating the hardship and suffering caused by the emergency on the local population, and to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures, authorized under Title V of the Stafford Act, to save lives, protect property and public health and safety, or to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe ... Specifically, FEMA is authorized to identify, mobilize, and provide at its discretion, equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency.


Now, it seems to me there are three points that make sense to raise with all this data.

The first is the importance of keeping an eye on the big picture and that is the fact that this whole conversation we're having now is not about substance, but procedural niceties, excuses which is it is beyond shameful for an American president to invoke in such a circumstance. We don't live in the 19th century. All you really needed was a subscription to basic cable to know almost all of the relevant details (at least relevant to know what sort of assistance was needed) about what was happening late last week. The president and his advisors want to duck responsibility by claiming, in so many words, that the Louisiana authorities didn't fill out the right forms. So what they're trying to pull is something like a DMV nightmare on steroids.

Second, as long as the White House wants to play this game, there are various invocations of federal statutes in this proclamations. And we'd need a lawyer with relevant experience to pick apart whether the right sections and powers were invoked.

Third -- and this is key -- even on its own terms, the White House's claims seem false on their face. The plain English of this documents shows that states of emergency had been declared on both the state and federal level before the hurricane hit and that at the state's request the president had given FEMA plenary powers to "identify, mobilize, and provide at its discretion, equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency."

David Broder helps the

David Broder helps the president up into the booster seat ...

It took almost no time for President Bush to put his stamp on the national response to the tragedy that has befallen New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, a reminder that modern communications have reshaped the constitutional division of powers in our government in ways that the Founding Fathers never could have imagined.

Because the commander in chief is also the communicator in chief, when a crisis emerges the nation's eyes turn to him as to no other official. We cannot yet calculate the political fallout from Hurricane Katrina and its devastating human and economic consequences, but one thing seems certain: It makes the previous signs of political weakness for Bush, measured in record-low job approval ratings, instantly irrelevant and opens new opportunities for him to regain his standing with the public.


Washington<$NoAd$>.

Let me extend my

Let me extend my condolences to the friends, family and colleagues of Chief Justice Rehnquist, who as you know died last night of thyroid cancer at age 80. I didn't post on this last night; and I doubt I will any more in the coming days or even weeks -- not because it isn't important news with all sorts of historic implications, but because I have little of value to add to the conversation.

Now at least we

Now at least we have the storyline. The Bush administration wasn't caught sleeping on the job while New Orleans went under with a gutted FEMA run by a guy who got fired from his last job policing horse shows. In fact, according to the new White House storyline, the governor of Louisiana and the mayor of New Orleans didn't ask for help quickly enough. And the White House was powerless to act until they did. Apparently they couldn't even reschedule the president's vacation until the locals got the right forms signed<$NoAd$>.

Here's the early version hot off the presses from the Washington Post ...

Behind the scenes, a power struggle emerged, as federal officials tried to wrest authority from Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D). Shortly before midnight Friday, the Bush administration sent her a proposed legal memorandum asking her to request a federal takeover of the evacuation of New Orleans, a source within the state's emergency operations center said Saturday.

The administration sought unified control over all local police and state National Guard units reporting to the governor. Louisiana officials rejected the request after talks throughout the night, concerned that such a move would be comparable to a federal declaration of martial law. Some officials in the state suspected a political motive behind the request. "Quite frankly, if they'd been able to pull off taking it away from the locals, they then could have blamed everything on the locals," said the source, who does not have the authority to speak publicly.

A senior administration official said that Bush has clear legal authority to federalize National Guard units to quell civil disturbances under the Insurrection Act and will continue to try to unify the chains of command that are split among the president, the Louisiana governor and the New Orleans mayor.

Louisiana did not reach out to a multi-state mutual aid compact for assistance until Wednesday, three state and federal officials said. As of Saturday, Blanco still had not declared a state of emergency, the senior Bush official said.

"The federal government stands ready to work with state and local officials to secure New Orleans and the state of Louisiana," White House spokesman Dan Bartlett said. "The president will not let any form of bureaucracy get in the way of protecting the citizens of Louisiana."

Blanco made two moves Saturday that protected her independence from the federal government: She created a philanthropic fund for the state's victims and hired James Lee Witt, Federal Emergency Management Agency director in the Clinton administration, to advise her on the relief effort.

Bush, who has been criticized, even by supporters, for the delayed response to the disaster, used his weekly radio address to put responsibility for the failure on lower levels of government. The magnitude of the crisis "has created tremendous problems that have strained state and local capabilities," he said. "The result is that many of our citizens simply are not getting the help they need, especially in New Orleans. And that is unacceptable."


CNN actually did a decent job picking apart Michael Chertoff's tissue of lies this afternoon. Let's see who drops to their knees for the new mumbojumbo coming down the pike.

Earlier today we noted

Earlier today we noted Michael Chertoff's laughable claim that there was no way the government could have foreseen two natural disasters, one right upon the other -- i.e., a hurricane followed by a flood. This is sort of like the earthquake followed by the building collapse. But CNN, to my surprise, truly skewers Chertoff in this piece up on their site.

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