Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

The Post Gets Played

The Washington Post is one of the most respected newspapers around, and with good reason. One of the chief causes is probably that, like The New York Times, the Post is an independently-owned paper versus one cog of a mighty empire such as Murdoch’s NewsCorp.

However, they made a subtle but significant error in a major article about Hurricane Katrina on Sunday, 9/4/05 when they parroted a Bush administration official’s claim without bothering to fact check it. The sentence reads, “As of Saturday, [Governor] Blanco still had not declared a state of emergency, the senior Bush official said.” The article depicts a bureaucratic turf war. However, the unchallenged false claim about the state of emergency gives undeserved weight to the Bush administration’s suggestions that it was Blanco’s foot dragging that prevented FEMA, the Department of Homeland Security, and Bush from acting.

I’ve heard several flacks spread this lie quite boldly, one to the BBC (I’m trying to get a clip of this). In fact, Blanco declared a State of Emergency on Friday, September 26th. Newsweek, also owned by The Washington Post Company, printed the same error. The Post has since issued a correction.

This was a rather key fact and fairly easy to check, so the question is why it made it into the paper in the first place. The other question is who the administration official was. Was he or she merely mistaken or intentionally trying to deceive? David Brock of watchdog group Media Matters for America has written the Post asking for the official’s identity to be revealed.

I was tipped off to this story in the first place from Josh Marshall’s Talking Points Memo site. He makes the observation:

Monday's Times, not surprisingly, confirms that the White House damage control operation is being run by Karl Rove and Dan Bartlett.

Add it up.

And who will report this out?

Now, I’m sure local and state officials deserve some of the blame, even while each new revelation about FEMA’s Mike Brown raises the question, just how incompetent is this guy? (He was and is clearly in way over his head. It’s like some sick joke illustrating the Peter Principle as executed by Satan.) Still, Blanco should be criticized for her actual performance versus some lie about it.

The new spin line from the Bushies is that Bush called New Orleans mayor Nagin and begged him to evacuate the city (in other words, if only Bush had been heeded, things would have gone much better). This did not smell right to me, all the more so because Bush was still touring the West at the time (I don’t have an hour-by-hour accounting, but the morning of the evacuation order Bush was sharing a birthday cake with John McCain and delivering a speech on Medicare).

Media Matters has a clip of Fox News’ Brit Hume pushing this story. They also refute it nicely with additional links. Meanwhile, Larry Johnson offers a glimpse into MSNBC's shameful handling of the same spin.

It appears instead that Bush called Blanco shortly before she and Nagin held a press conference announcing the evacuation. Apparently, while Blanco mentioned the call with Bush to give the evacuation order more weight, the decision had already been made. I’m expecting more details on this will come out shortly.

You really, really have to watch these guys.

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