- The Washington Times - Monday, September 12, 2005

Ignorant reporters

“It is settled wisdom among journalists that the federal response to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina was unconscionably slow,” Pittsburgh Press-Gazette national security writer Jack Kelly says.

“‘Mr. Bush’s performance last week will rank as one of the worst ever during a dire national emergency,’ wrote New York Times columnist Bob Herbert in a somewhat more strident expression of the conventional wisdom.

“But the conventional wisdom is the opposite of the truth,” Mr. Kelly writes.

Jason van Steenwyk is a Florida Army National Guardsman who has been mobilized six times for hurricane relief. He notes that: ‘The federal government pretty much met its standard time lines, but the volume of support … was unprecedented. The federal response here was faster than Hugo, faster than Andrew, faster than Iniki, faster than Francine and Jeanne.’

“For instance, it took five days for National Guard troops to arrive in strength on the scene in Homestead, Fla. after Hurricane Andrew hit in 2002. But after Katrina, there was a significant National Guard presence in the afflicted region in three [days].

“Journalists who are long on opinions and short on knowledge have no idea what is involved in moving hundreds of tons of relief supplies into an area the size of England in which power lines are down, telecommunications are out, no gasoline is available, bridges are damaged, roads and airports are covered with debris, and apparently have little interest in finding out.

“So they libel as a ‘national disgrace’ the most monumental and successful disaster relief operation in world history.”

Ignorant reporters II

Fox News Managing Editor Brit Hume says most reporters in Washington don’t seem to know much about the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“We need to understand what FEMA is,” Mr. Hume said yesterday on “Fox News Sunday.”

“And it’s an appalling fact that very few reporters in Washington seem to know what FEMA is. FEMA, first of all, is not a first responder. FEMA is basically a tiny little agency that has been kept weak. And you know why it’s been kept weak? The governors want it that way. In each of these operations, it’s always FEMA’s job to work through the state and local government — particularly the state government.

“And it’s a telling fact of all this that, even as we sit here speaking, the control of Louisiana National Guard and the other state National Guardsmen who are in there … has not been relinquished to the federal government because the governor didn’t want to do it. And that is a telling fact in all this.

“Look, FEMA’s job is just beginning. And what FEMA is, is an agency with supplies and a lot of money. And we’re going to see that money spread around — though I guess we can talk about that in the next segment. But it’s important to remember what FEMA is [and] what FEMA isn’t.”

Hindsight squatters

“Recriminations are all the rage today. But really, does anyone ever pay attention to the prophets of doom until it’s too late?” the Los Angeles Times’ Michael Kinsley writes.

“As a good American, you no doubt have been worried sick for years about the levees around New Orleans. Or you’ve been worried at least since you read that official report in August 2001 — the one that ranked a biblical flood of the Big Easy as one of our top three potential national emergencies. No? You didn’t read that report in 2001? You just read about it in the newspapers this last week?” Mr. Kinsley said.

“Well, how about that prescient New Orleans Times-Picayune series in 2002 that laid out the whole likely catastrophe? Everybody read that one. Or at least it sure seems that way now. I was not aware that the Times-Picayune had such a large readership in places like Washington, D.C., and California. And surely you have been badgering public officials at every level of government to spend whatever it takes to reinforce those levees — and to raise your taxes if necessary to pay for it.

“No? You never gave five seconds of thought to the risk of flooding in New Orleans until it became impossible to think about anything else? Me neither. Nor have I given much thought to the risk of a big earthquake along the West Coast — the only one of the top three catastrophes that hasn’t happened yet — even though I live and work in the earthquake zone.

“Of course, my job isn’t to predict and prepare for disasters. My job is to recriminate when they occur. It’s not easy. These days the recriminations business is overrun with amateurs, who are squatting on all the high ground. The fetid aroma of hindsight is everywhere.”

Politicizing Katrina

“In trashing President Bush, Democrats have overplayed their hand as never before,” the Weekly Standard’s Fred Barnes writes, referring to Hurricane Katrina.

“Their criticism of Bush began soon after the levees broke in New Orleans and picked up steam once it became clear that thousands of people were stranded in New Orleans without food, medicine, or imminent prospects of being rescued. And the media, more hostile to Bush than ever, adopted the Democratic line that the slowness of rescue and recovery efforts was the fault of Bush and [Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Michael D.] Brown,” Mr. Barnes said.

“Now, after politicizing Katrina and dividing the country, Democrats insist, disingenuously, that Bush depoliticize the issue and unify the country. He should go about this, Democrats argue, by choosing a ‘unity’ nominee for the second Supreme Court vacancy. Unity in this case means a candidate Democrats like. And he should jettison his domestic agenda, especially tax cuts. If Bush falls for this, he deserves to have his job rating drop (I suspect he won’t).

“There’s a good test of whether criticism of Bush is purely partisan. If the accuser also directs blame at Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco, who froze in reaction to Katrina, and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, so overwhelmed by the hurricane that he didn’t carry out the city’s emergency plan, then the criticism might have some merit. Another test is whether a critic cites real examples where FEMA failed to carry out one of its missions. Rescuing people from roofs isn’t one of them. Most critics, like [House Minority Leader Nancy] Pelosi, fail to offer any specifics.”

Tag team

“Some senior Democratic strategists are starting to sound like bitter Republicans when it comes to grumbling about President Bush’s teaming of his dad with Bill Clinton to raise Katrina aid,” Paul Bedard writes in the Washington Whispers column of U.S. News & World Report.

“Republicans whined first when the tag team was formed after the tsunami. Their worry: Bush’s move was helping to rehabilitate Clinton’s image among his critics. Now Democrats believe Clinton’s help on Katrina is a de facto endorsement of Bush’s handling of the crisis. ‘It’s killing us,’ said a consultant.”

Greg Pierce can be reached at 202/636-3285 or gpierce@washingtontimes.com.

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