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Anyone But Bush

The ConWeb gets the memo, starts looking for ways to deflect blame away from the Bush administration for the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 9/6/2005
Updated 9/7/2005

The ConWeb certainly does follow orders well.

A Sept. 5 New York Times article tells us that "the White House rolled out a plan this weekend to contain the political damage from the administration's response to Hurricane Katrina. The plan, directed by Bush's chief political adviser, Karl Rove, and his communications director, Dan Bartlett, aims to "move the blame for the slow response to Louisiana state officials."

And, coincidence of coincidences, that's exactly what the ConWeb is doing -- the same Bush-deflection service it provided immediately after 9/11.

In the lead, to no one's surprise, is NewsMax, led by editor Christopher Ruddy himself. A Sept. 4 column by Ruddy singled out Jefferson Parish president Aaron Broussard for attack, smearing him with an inaccurate quote as a money-hungry incompetent. In an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press," Ruddy wrote, Broussard "ended his performance as he collapsed in tears with a demand: 'For God's sake, just shut up and send us the money!'"

But that's not what Broussard said; he said "send us somebody," not "send us the money." Ruddy later corrected the quote, but without noting that he had done so or apologizing for getting it wrong in the first place, something that runs contrary to the correction policies of most newspapers. (A screen capture of the original misquote is here.) That half-measure does, however, put Ruddy ahead of one of his previous attempts at misguided reporting, where he has yet to apologize or retract an article falsely claiming that the Clintons were selling their Chappaqua, N.Y., house.

Ruddy also failed to offer the full context of Broussard's statement, which came at the end of an emotional anecdote in which his parish's head of emergency management continually promised his trapped mother that help would arrive, and she died before she could be rescued. Yet Ruddy claimed that Broussard's "tears didn't wash with me," than blamed him for the aftermath: "My sympathies lay with the tens of thousands of people who have suffered or died because local officials like Broussard, [New Orleans] Mayor [Ray] Nagin, and Governor Kathleen Blanco, also a Democrat, failed at their jobs in a monumental way."

Ruddy also emphasized that Nagin is a Democrat without noting that he was a Republican until 2002, when he filed to run for New Orleans mayor, and has donated to President Bush's election campaigns.

Geoff Metcalf (last seen here regurgitating's misquote of Paul Begala) joins the fun in a Sept. 5 column, blaming the stranded victims themselves for being lazy welfare addicts, citing a story about wild hogs becoming dependent on human-supplied food: "The allegory of the pigs includes a serious moral lesson. It is a story about federal money being used to bait, trap and enslave a once free and independent people."

A Sept. 4 article on Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu's suggestion that she might punch Bush if he criticizes how local officials handled the Katrina aftermath adds: " It is illegal to threaten the president with physical violence." We don't recall NewsMax issuing such a disclaimer when Ann Coulter wrote in a 1998 book that the debate over President Clinton's Monica Lewinsky scandal should have focused on "whether to impeach or assassinate."

(Update: A Sept. 6 NewsMax column by Mike Gallagher claimed: "Like many, my family and I experienced 9/11 in an up close and personal way. And yet, we never heard the kind of whiny, belly-aching, finger-pointing blame game we're hearing in the hours and days after Hurricane Katrina's fury was felt in the Gulf Coast." He must not have been listening.)

WorldNetDaily also rushed in with its share of Bush-deflecting articles, even pulling ahead on what is typically NewsMax's turf: blaming the Clintons. A Sept. 3 article claims that the Clinton administration cut funding to improve levees and drainage canals in New Orleans in the 1990s.

Craig Smith, whose status as a WND advertiser appears to be his main qualification for his column appearing at WND, placed all the blame on Nagin in a Sept. 5 column. Smith claimed that Nagin fell victim to the "liberal Democratic creed" and would have been heavily criticized if he was a Republican -- while, like Ruddy, failing to note that Nagin indeed was a Republican before he became mayor.

A Sept. 5 column by Doug Powers (seen last as an unwitting accomplice to WND's fake story about a Terri Schiavo TV movie) implied that only Democrats are seeking to capitalize on Katrina for political purposes, ignoring the National Review's call to hold the 2008 Republican National Convention in New Orleans.

WND also seemed to mock Fox News correspondents Geraldo Rivera and Shepard Smith for expressing emotions while reporting from New Orleans. A Sept. 3 article, headlined "Sobbing Geraldo: Let the people go!" noted that Rivera "was filled with tears in his eyes and his voice fluttered with sorrow" and that Smith's report had an "excited negative tone." The article later quotes what it claims are Fox viewers actually mocking Rivera, but it doesn't say where exactly those quotes came from, so there's no way of verifying their authenticity.

WND was serving up an alternative view of the disaster as well -- that it was a sign that God is trying to tell us something.

An Aug. 31 article approvingly cited Michael Marcavage of Repent America -- the group whose battle over an arrest for aggressively protesting at a gay festival last fall WND misleadingly promoted -- claiming that God sent Katrina to stop a gay festival in New Orleans: "New Orleans was a city that opened its doors wide open to the public celebration of sin." This is the same position as creepy, even-more-aggressively anti-gay Kansas preacher Fred Phelps, but WND doesn't seem interested in promoting that. Even teen WND columnist Kyle Williams recoiled against Marcavage's claims in a Sept. 3 column.

WND also promoted the claims of one radio host, George Noory, that Katrina is a sign of the "End Times," a suggestion also made in a Sept. 5 column by Greg Laurie.

The Media Research Center did its part as well, declaring that blaming the president is liberal bias and devoting its Sept. 2 CyberAlert to examples of such.

Even Accuracy in Media followed the memo to the letter, using a Sept. 2 press release to attack one MSNBC anchor for "almost constantly trying to fix blame on the Bush Administration for the natural disaster." One TV analyst, meanwhile, was praised for injecting "a note of sanity" because he said that "the state and local governments bear most of the blame for failing to take action to protect the city of New Orleans." It also ran the same Geoff Metcalf column that NewsMax did.

The most boneheaded take thus far on Katrina comes from Jon Dougherty -- yes, the Slantie-winning one-source wonder himself -- for a Sept. 2 WND column in which he claims:

[O]ffers of international aid and assistance to help us get back on our feet are not exactly pouring in. As of this writing, I've seen exactly two offers of assistance.

The same day Dougherty's column appeared, however, was reporting that more than 20 countries had offered assistance to the U.S., and a NewsMax article called it "shameful" that "only 25 nations" have offered help. If Dougherty had checked more than one source (if indeed he checked even one), he might have known that.

(Update: NewsMax, the MRC's NewsBusters blog and the David Horowitz-operated Moonbat Central blog (home of Scaife-linkned ConWebWatch-smearer Richard Poe) all pounced on a Washington Post/ABC News poll that claimed that, in the words of Moonbat Central's Jacob Laskin, "reject the mantra that Bush is to blame" for the Katrina aftermath. But none of them report the poll's flaws: the number of poll respondents was much smaller than a typically used in a national poll, which introduces a greater margin of error, and the poll was conducted on one night, on the first evening of a major holiday weekend, which weakens the poll even more.)

But there appear to be a few cracks in the ConWeb's wall of protection around the Bush administration. WND ran two articles on Sept. 5 taking whacks at both homeland security secretary Michael Chertoff and Federal Emergency Management Agency director Michael Brown. But thus far, that's anomalous of the ConWeb; everyone else is still playing the deflection game.

And look for it to ramp up this week. They're just following orders, after all.

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