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Responsibility Apologists

The ConWeb makes it abundantly clear what President Bush was -- and wasn't -- taking responsibility for regarding Hurricane Katrina. Plus: NewsBusters gets busted trying to pass on a faulty report blaming Democrats for Michael Brown being FEMA director, and other Katrina distortions on the ConWeb.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 9/16/2005

What's a ConWeb to do when the president they wholeheartedly support does something so untoward as to issue an apology for the federal government's slow response to Hurricane Katrina.

Why, spin it, of course.

At the Media Research Center's NewsBusters blog, Mike Russell wants to make it perfectly just what precisely, Bush was apologizing for. After denouncing headlines and TV blurbs stating "Bush: I Take Responsibility" as "typical promotional manipulation tactics" in a Sept. 14 post, Russell wrote:

But here's the deal. There's a vast different between what the headline instantly implies and what the article itself may or may not necessarily support.

'I take responsibility' says, "I know all the details and I stand responsible for the whole ball of wax."

'To the extent...,' preceded by the reference to all levels of government says something entirely different. It says that "while people have died and countless billions will be spent rebuilding New Orleans, the truth is that this was a system-wide failure. I'm willing to assume responsibility for the Federal government's share of this tragedy, but we've ALL got to do a lot of digging to get to its root causes. States and municipalities, upon whom we should be depending to be the Fed's eyes on the front lines, supposedly had quality leaders in charge before the storm. Now we have to assume that's not necessarily true.'

Sure Bush didn't SAY those exact words. But 'TO THE EXTENT' goes a long way toward implying them.

Fellow NewsBusters blogger Matthew Sheffield, meanwhile, was offended that "some news organizations left out the word federal in their reportage, creating the possible impression that Bush had shouldered blame for state and local failures."

Related article on ConWebWatch:

Anyone But Bush

NewsMax took the opposite tack, claiming that Bush shouldn't have apologized at all. First, NewsMax claimed in a Sept. 14 article, "Bush's public handwringing shows that he still hasn't learned his lesson from the Abu Ghraib fiasco, where countless presidential apologies only seemed to feed the media's faux outrage."

Second, NewsMax claimed that Bush "has precious little to apologize for" because federal response to Katrina was faster than with other natural disasters. Unfortunately, its evidence for this is a column by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Jack Kelly that is littered with distortions and falsehoods.

WorldNetDaily, meanwhile, downplayed the apology, choosing instead in a Sept. 13 article to lead with another Bush statement questioning the readiness of officials "respond to a terrorist attack on American soil."

* * *

In addition to specifically defining what, if anything, Bush should apologize for, both NewsMax and NewsBusters tried to shove the debacle that was Michael Brown's tenure as Federal Emergency Management Agency onto Democrats, who controlled the Senate at the time of Brown's confirmation as deputy director in 2002.

NewsBusters' Noel Sheppard goes further by citing a faulty CNN report and misquoting Joe Lieberman, (D-Conn.), then-chairman of the committee Brown's nomination passed through.

According to Sheppard, CNN's Ed Henry reported that Democrats "could have easily blocked his [Brown's] appointment if they felt he wasn't qualified." But Sheppard failed to point out that the position for which Brown went through the nomination process was deputy director of FEMA. When Brown was named FEMA director in 2004, his nomination did not go before the Senate -- by then controlled by Republicans -- because of a provision included in the legislation creating the Department of Homeland Security (under whose umbrella FEMA was moved) favored by the Bush White House.

Sheppard also says of Henry's CNN report:

Pay particular attention to a statement made by Joe Lieberman with interesting implications concerning the filibustering of judicial appointees: "The president has earned the right to make the choice of who he wants to serve. And Congress has to decide not whether I would have chosen the person, but whether the person is acceptable for the job. And at that point, he sure looked like it."

Sound a little like what Republicans say about the president’s judicial nominees? Of course, the most important question is whether anybody else is going to report this story.

But as Media Matters notes, Henry chopped up Lieberman's words, changing their meaning. Henry left out the words before the statement Sheppard quoted; Lieberman's full statement went like this: "This is one of those classic cases, deputy to an organization, where you say the president has earned the right to make the choice of who he wants to serve." A deputy agency official is not a judge, last time we checked.

Additionally, according to Media Matters, Henry omitted any reference to the Homeland Security provision that allowed Brown to advance to director without another hearing, or that Lieberman opposed that provision.

(NewsBusters had previously rushed to Brown's defense; a Sept. 9 post by Dustin Hawkins complained that Brown's critics don't "mention his handling of some 150+ handling of other declared disasters and emergencies prior to Hurricane Katrina and the job he did.")

Somehow, Sheppard or NewsMax had nothing to say on the Bush administration's responsibility for nominating Brown in the first place. Will Sheppard report this story?

* * *

More distortions about Katrina abound on the ConWeb:

The Clinton equivocation: NewsMax continues its efforts to drag the Clintons into the disaster, despite the fact that the Clinton administration ended years ago. A Sept. 13 article claims that President Clinton took a day longer to arrive at the scene of the 1994 Oklahoma City bombing, "his administration's biggest disaster," than Bush did to arrive in the New Orleans area.

And why NewsMax feels the need to defend a heavily armed religious fanatic and child molester is beyond us, but it feels the need to bring up the 1993 Waco siege against David Koresh and his Branch Davidian cult. "More children were killed in that April 19, 1993, assault than died in Oklahoma City. Yet the Clinton administration received little if any blame - and no one was forced to resign." And whose fault was it that those children were holed up in a fortified compound with a cult leader? Not the Clinton administration's.

NewsMax added that Clinton attorney general Janet Reno "was hailed as a hero by sympathetic reporters, an irony that's likely not lost on Bush's allegedly 'disgraced' ex-FEMA Director Michael Brown." Of course, Brown has yet to publicly accept responsibility.

False school bus story: A WorldNetDaily columnist fell for a false meme about New Orleans school buses. In a Sept. 9 commentary, bashing New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco, John Adams (described as a "former news director at Florida's Radio Networks in Orlando") wrote: "And let's not ignore the fact that 2,000 school buses, many seen on television under flood water, were available for the evacuation, but were never ordered activated by the mayor or the governor."

While conservatives have eagerly pointed to pictures of submerged school buses to attack Nagin and Blanco for an inadequate evacuation of New Orleans, there weren't 2,000 of them. In fact, the New Orleans school district owned only 324 school buses. As Media Matters notes, even if all of the school buses had been used for evacuation, only about 22,000 people would have been evacuated, a small fraction of the 100,000-plus New Orleans residents estimated to not own a car.

Adams also totally buys into the Bush administration's (and the ConWeb's) blame-everyone-else-but-Bush spin. He repeats the claim that after Katrina hit Louisiana, "the headline the next morning read, 'New Orleans Dodged the Bullet.'" But that's not true, either.

A Sept. 16 column by Ron Marr repeated the same false claim about the buses, as well as another false claim that Bush "pleaded" with Nagin and Blanco to evacuate New Orleans (debunked here). E. Ralph Hostetter of the Free Congress Foundation also got the school bus number wrong in a Sept. 16 commentary at Accuracy in Media, even though he revised the number slightly downward from 2,000 to "more than 1,000."

Playing the race card: As much as conservatives have accused liberals of playing the race card regarding governmental response to Katrina, the ConWeb hasn't hesitated to do the same thing when it serves its purposes:

-- A Sept. 9 article by Susan Jones gave support to President Bush's executive order to rescind the Davis-Bacon Act, which requires the government to pay prevailing local wages to construction workers, in hurricane-damaged areas. One key claim Jones cites came from a report by the conservative Cato Institute, which claimed that Davis-Bacon was racist because it allegedly "was designed explicitly to keep black construction workers from working on Depression-era public works projects." Nathan Newman, in a post at TPMCafe, has the rebuttal that Jones failed to include.

-- A Sept. 10 Accuracy in Media press release claims that suggests that the news media is protecting New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin from criticism over his handling of the Hurricane Katrina aftermath because he is black. "Why is there a media rush to blame Bush and let a black mayor and female governor off the hook in the blame game?" AIM editor Cliff Kincaid is quoted as saying. AIM, of course, has been busy with its own media rush to shield the president from all blame.

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