Jindal’s Office Tries To Spin Katrina Story, Digs Itself In Deeper

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It looks like Bobby Jindal’s staff has been trying to do some damage limitation on that phony Katrina story — with some help from Politico. But it’s blowing up in their faces.

Picking up on an earlier post at Daily Kos, we wrote a post yesterday that raised questions about a key anecdote in Bobby Jindal’s big Tuesday night speech.

You can watch the key excerpt here, but here’s the transcript:

During Katrina, I visited Sheriff Harry Lee, a Democrat and a good friend of mine. When I walked into his makeshift office I’d never seen him so angry. He was yelling into the phone: ‘Well, I’m the Sheriff and if you don’t like it you can come and arrest me!’ I asked him: ‘Sheriff, what’s got you so mad?’ He told me that he had put out a call for volunteers to come with their boats to rescue people who were trapped on their rooftops by the floodwaters. The boats were all lined up ready to go – when some bureaucrat showed up and told them they couldn’t go out on the water unless they had proof of insurance and registration. I told him, ‘Sheriff, that’s ridiculous.’ And before I knew it, he was yelling into the phone: ‘Congressman Jindal is here, and he says you can come and arrest him too!’ Harry just told the boaters to ignore the bureaucrats and start rescuing people.

In our post, we reported — among other red flags — that we couldn’t find any news reports that put Jindal on the ground in the affected area during the time when a boat rescue would have been needed. As we noted, we called Jindal’s office twice before posting to ask them to verify the incident, but heard nothing back.

This morning, Politico‘s Ben Smith, noting that we and others had raised questions about Jindal’s story, posted a response from the governor’s chief of staff, Timmy Teepell:

It was in the days following the storm. Sheriff Lee was a hero who worked tirelessly to rescue those in danger, and he didn’t take kindly to bureaucrats getting in his way.

That didn’t really seem to clear things up either way — indeed it admitted that it wasn’t “during Katrina” as Jindal had originally said. Still, the headline of Smith’s post characterized the statement as “stand[ing] by” the anecdote.

Team Jindal probably would have been wise to leave things there.

Instead, they went back to Smith, now telling him, in Smith’s words, that Jindal “didn’t imply” on Tuesday that the story “took place during the heat of a fight to release rescue boats.” (Take 30 seconds to read Jindal’s actual words, and you’ll see that’s flatly untrue — but no matter.) Rather, Jindal spokeswoman Melissa Sellers told Smith, “It was days later .. Sheriff Lee was on the phone and the governor came down to visit him. It wasn’t that they were standing right down there with the boats.”

Smith added:

She said she thought Lee, who died in 2007, “was doing an interview” about the incident with the boats when the governor described him yelling into the phone.

In other words, Jindal only heard from Lee later that this had happened. He didn’t actually see it happening and played no role in it himself. We posted a few hours ago, noting that Jindal’s office had admitted the story was false.

But then things got weirder: Jindal’s people went back for yet more.

Smith soon posted an update explaining that he had misunderstood Sellers earlier. According to Teepell, Smith now wrote, rescue efforts were in fact still underway when Jindal met with Lee. And Jindal overheard Lee yelling on the phone to justify a decision he had previously made, not giving an interview about the episode, as Sellers’ earlier version had had it.

In fact, that whole thing about Jindal overhearing Lee giving an interview? It’s now gone from Smith’s post (though, thanks to the dangers of syndication, it remains here) as if Jindal’s office never said it.

There’s more. Amazingly, Sellers then argued to Smith that there is no difference between Jindal’s original story as told Tuesday night, and the one her office finally settled on this afternoon. And even more amazingly, Smith added another update in which he transcribed that argument without comment, as if it were reasonable.

Then the capper: With Jindal’s office now satisfied with the third iteration of its story — a version that clearly acknowledged that the first version, told Tuesday night to millions, was false — Teepell went back to Smith with the following comment:

“This is liberal blogger B.S. The story is clear.”

And Smith, in yet another update, published it.

Good work all round!

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