George W. Bush: Hurricane Katrina: Public Relations
Gary Trudeau encapsulates the situation beautifully in his 20 Sept. Doonesbury strip.
"But let the Democrats hold their rejoicing," Dick Morris wrote, September 7, 2005. "In a year, Katrina and the relief and rebuilding efforts that are about to follow will be seen as having imparted a new and crucial momentum to an administration that was obviously increasingly running out of ideas, out of steam, and — like its nation — out of gas.
"Katrina has the capacity to shape the second Bush term in the same way Sept. 11 shaped his first term — not only in rebuilding New Orleans but in taking preventative steps around the nation to bolster our defenses against natural and manmade disasters and terror strikes. Responding to disasters is a source of presidential strength and popularity, and Bush is about to show how it is done."
- Catapulting Katrina: "See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda." --President George Walker Bush, May 24, 2005.
Spin & Damage Control
Spin is Spun
"When Joe Scarborough and ultraconservative Family Research Council head Tony Perkins are on television discussing the government's failed response to the Katrina disaster... when Tucker Carlson is wading through storm waters with a dazed expression but an odd, new fire in his eyes... when Michelle Malkin takes time out from thoroughly out-frothing has-been Ann Coulter in order to call for FEMA head Michael Brown to be fired... I'm sorry, but the administration spin is spun. It's over." --Hunter, Daily Kos, September 8, 2005.
"President Bush continued to try to spin his own inaction [September 13, 2005], but he may finally have reached a patch of reality beyond spin. Now he's the one drowning, unable to rescue himself by patting small black children on the head during photo-ops and making scripted attempts to appear engaged. He can keep going back down there, as he will again on Thursday when he gives a televised speech to the nation, but he can never compensate for his tragic inattention during days when so many lives could have been saved," Maureen Dowd wrote in her September 14, 2005, New York Times Op-Ed.
"It sure seemed obvious that the Administration was clueless in Iraq and many other places, but the press has consistently given the Bushies the benefit of the doubt on basic competence, despite ample evidence to the contrary.
"I think the most likely reason is that the press admired the skill the Administration has displayed in manipulating the press. Reporters, many of whom have themselves considered working on the PR side of the media racket, were so professionally impressed by how well the Bushies organized photo ops, managed the leaking process, and spun the news for them that they found it hard to believe that the Administration was as inept as it appeared at its lawfully mandated tasks." --Steve Sailer cited by Matthew Yglesias, September 7, 2005.
- "The big disconnect on New Orleans. The official version; then there's the in-the-trenches version," CNN, September 2, 2005.
- Elisabeth Bumiller and Adam Nagourney, "As White House Anxiety Grows, Bush Tries to Quell Political Crisis," New York Times, September 4, 2005.
- Joshua Micah Marshall, Talking Points Memo, September 4, 2005: "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."
- Josh Marshall, Talking Points Memo, September 4, 2005: "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."
- Josh Marshall, "Did Newsweek get spun too?" Talking Points Memo, September 4, 2005.
- "'Wash Post' Runs A Key Katrina Correction," Editor & Publisher, September 4, 2005.
- Adam Nagourney and Anne E. Kornblut, "White House Enacts a Plan to Ease Political Damage," New York Times, September 5, 2005.
- Dan Froomkin, "Dealing With Political Disaster," Washington Post, September 6, 2005.
- "Wednesday's Wild White House Press Briefing: More Tough Questions on Katrina Response," Editor & Publisher, September 7, 2005. Although White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan used the meme "blame game" several times, the contentious briefing provides numerous pieces of information.
- Dana Milbank, "Hughes Is Varnishing the Nation's Tarnish," Washington Post, September 9, 2005. Re Karen Hughes.
- Laura Rozen, "Unwagging the Dog. Katrina knocks power out of Bush spin machine," Village Voice (Common Dreams), September 12, 2005.
- T.J. Walker, "The President from New Orleans. A scorecard," National Review Online, September 16, 2005.
- Dan Balz, "A Bid to Repair a Presidency," Washington Post, September 16, 2005.
- "Amid the Ruins, a President Tries to Reconstruct His Image, Too," New York Times, September 16, 2005.
- Maureen Dowd, "Disney on Parade," New York Times (Common Dreams), September 16, 2005.
- Frank Rich, "Message: I Care About the Black Folks," New York Times, September 18, 2005.
Propaganda and Disinformation
- "NY Times advanced Bush administration's dubious suggestion that FEMA is 'better prepare[d]' to handle hurricane crisis than before 9-11," Media Matters for America, September 1, 2005.
- "Is Bush to Blame for New Orleans Flooding? He did slash funding for levee projects. But the Army Corps of Engineers says Katrina was just too strong," FactCheck.org, September 2, 2005.
- "NY Times reprinted without contradiction Bush's false claim that nobody 'anticipated the breach of the levees'," Media Matters for America, September 2, 2005.
- "Fox's Hume, Wilson take cue from conservative blogs, repeat unfounded claim that Bush "pleaded" with New Orleans mayor to evacuate city," Media Matters for America, September 6, 2005.
- "Bush Lied, New Orleans Died. LA Gov. Blanco Asked Bush for Assistance on 8/28," BuzzFlash, September 6, 2005.
- "O'Reilly falsely accused La. governor of not requesting more National Guard troops," Media Matters for America, September 7, 2005.
- "Who is Bob Williams, and why is he on TV talking about Hurricane Katrina?" Media Matters for America, September 7, 2005.
- "Media provide forums for administration officials and conservatives to spread falsehoods about hurricane relief efforts," Media Matters for America, September 7, 2005.
- "News outlets repeated faulty administration claim that deployment of troops to Iraq did not affect Katrina relief effort," Media Matters for America, September 7, 2005.
- "Tom DeLay, Then and Now," Wonkette, September 7, 2005, in which she compares:
- "GOP leaders agree to joint Katrina hearings. Administration asks for $51.8 billion in Katrina aid," CNN, September 7, 2005: Tom DeLay claimed FEMA is not a primary responder: "'The emergency response system was set up to work from the bottom up,' DeLay said late Tuesday."
- Karen Masterson, "White House releases rest of FEMA's disaster money," Houston Chronicle, August 2, 2001: Delay takes "credit for getting an additional $1.3 billion allocated to FEMA, on top of the disbursement of some $583 million in disaster relief for Tropical Storm Allison in 2001."
- Tom Raum, "Dems Blast Bush Over Hurricane Response," Associated Press (Yahoo! News), August 7, 2005: "Bush cut short his vacation by two days last week to return to Washington."
- John Aravosis of AMERICAblog commented, September 7, 2005: "Uh, that's a nice way of saying that Bush didn't cancel his vacation until the 3d day AFTER the hurricane had struck. Very cute spinning as Bush, the valiant, canceled his vacation early. Technically AP is correct, but in writing being technically correct isn't the goal - it's to write clearly in a way that your readers understand the facts. That sentence is 100% misleading and AP should know it."
- "Chavez, Murdock advanced dubious claim that Bush convinced Blanco to evacuate New Orleans," Media Matters for America, September 8, 2005.
- "Just days after Bush aide lied about Blanco in Wash. Post article, the Post noted Democrats' 'harsh rhetoric,' which 'could create a backlash'," Media Matters for America, September 8, 2005.
Photo-Ops and "fake news"
- "Why are these helicopters being used as a backdrop for President Bush, instead of assisting the victims of Hurricane Katrina? ... Why are members of the Coast Guard being used as a backdrop for Bush’s press conference? Don’t they have more important things to do?," Think Progress asked September 2, 2005.
- "There was a striking dicrepancy between the CNN International report on the Bush visit to the New Orleans disaster zone, yesterday, and reports of the same event by German TV. ... ZDF News reported that the president's visit was a completely staged event. Their crew witnessed how the open air food distribution point Bush visited in front of the cameras was torn down immediately after the president and the herd of 'news people' had left and that others which were allegedly being set up were abandoned at the same time. ... The people in the area were once again left to fend for themselves, said ZDF," Laura Rozen, reported in War and Piece, September 3, 2005.
- "[T]he greatest disappointment [regarding the federal response] stands at the breached 17th Street levee. Touring this critical site yesterday with the President," Senator Mary Landrieu, D-La., said September 3, 2005, "I saw what I believed to be a real and significant effort to get a handle on a major cause of this catastrophe. Flying over this critical spot again this morning, less than 24 hours later, it became apparent that yesterday we witnessed a hastily prepared stage set for a Presidential photo opportunity; and the desperately needed resources we saw were this morning reduced to a single, lonely piece of equipment. The good and decent people of southeast Louisiana and the Gulf Coast - black and white, rich and poor, young and old - deserve far better from their national government."
- "Firefighters say they want to brave the heat, the debris-littered roads, the poisonous cottonmouth snakes and fire ants and travel into pockets of Louisiana where many people have yet to receive emergency aid. ... But as specific orders began arriving to the firefighters in Atlanta, a team of 50 Monday morning quickly was ushered onto a flight headed for Louisiana. The crew's first assignment: to stand beside President Bush as he tours devastated areas," Lisa Rosetta of The Salt Lake Tribune reported September 6, 2005.
- Associated Press photos can be viewed on The Times-Picayune website.