Jefferson Parish president blasted Russert for "nitpick[ing] a man's mother's death"September 26, 2005 3:13 PM EDT ››› ANDREW SEIFTER
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On the September 25 edition of NBC's Meet the Press, Jefferson Parish president Aaron Broussard lashed out at host Tim Russert for rebroadcasting Broussard's appearance on Meet the Press three weeks ago, in which he emotionally recounted the story of the death of the mother of Jefferson Parish emergency services director Thomas Rodrigue. In that September 4 appearance, Broussard suggested that after repeatedly requesting assistance for several days, St. Rita nursing home patient Eva Rodrigue "drowned on Friday," September 2. Russert re-aired the September 4 appearance, noting that "MSNBC and other blog organizations have looked into the facts behind your comments." MSNBC reported that Thomas Rodrigue disputed some portions of Broussard's version of those events. Responding to Russert on September 25, Broussard criticized attempts of "black-hearted people [who] want to nitpick a man's mother's death," and stated that "Mother Nature is not playing any political games" in light of the tragedy he has witnessed.
Although Broussard's specific timeline may have been off, the Department of Homeland Security's National Response Plan (NRP) supports his contention that the federal government's response to the situation was delayed.
From the September 25 edition of NBC's Meet the Press:
RUSSERT: As you well know, Mr. Broussard, when you appeared here last time, very difficult time, very emotional time. You made some accusations that ricocheted around the country and have created an enormous response. I want to go back and play those for you and then some things written about them and give you a chance to respond. Let's watch.
BROUSSARD (video clip): It's not just Katrina that caused all these deaths in New Orleans here. Bureaucracy has committed murder here in the greater New Orleans area, and bureaucracy has to stand trial before Congress now. It's so obvious.
RUSSERT: Hold on. Hold on, sir. Shouldn't the mayor of New Orleans and the governor of New Orleans [sic] bear some responsibility? Couldn't they have been much more forceful, much more effective, and much more organized in evacuating the area?
BROUSSARD: Sir, they were told, like me, every single day, "The cavalry is coming." On the federal level, "The cavalry is coming. The cavalry's coming. The cavalry's coming." The guy who runs this building I'm in, emergency management, he's responsible for everything. His mother was trapped in St. Bernard Nursing Home, and every day she called him and said, "Are you coming, son? Is somebody coming?" And he said, "Yeah, Mama. Somebody's coming to get you. Somebody's coming to get you on Tuesday." "Somebody's coming to get you on Wednesday." "Somebody's coming to get you on Thursday." "Somebody's coming to get you on Friday." And she drowned Friday night. She drowned Friday night.
RUSSERT: Mr. President --
BROUSSARD: Nobody's coming to get us. Nobody's coming to get us. The secretary has promised. Everybody's promised. They've had press conferences. I'm sick of the press conferences. For God's sake, shut up and send us somebody.
BROUSSARD: I've never watched this. Why are they taking me here?
RUSSERT: Mr. Broussard, obviously that was a very painful, emotional moment, but let me show you some of the --
BROUSSARD: Sir, I've never looked at that. I've never heard that. I'm sorry. You take me to a sad place when you let me hear that.
RUSSERT: Well, it was important, I think --
BROUSSARD: Go ahead. Go ahead, sir. Go ahead, sir.
RUSSERT: Thank you very much.
BROUSSARD: Go ahead.
RUSSERT: All right, sir. Thank you very much. Take your time. But it's important I think --
BROUSSARD: Go ahead.
RUSSERT: -- that our viewers see that again because MSNBC and other blog organizations have looked into the facts behind your comments, and these are the conclusions, and I'll read it for you and our viewers. It says: "An emotional moment and a misunderstanding. Since the broadcast of the [Meet the Press] interview ... a number of bloggers have questioned the validity of Broussard's story. Subsequent reporting identified the man whom Broussard was referring to ... as Thomas Rodrigue, the Jefferson Parish emergency services director. ... Rodrigue acknowledged that his 92-year-old mother and more than 30 other people died in the St. Rita nursing home. They had not been evacuated and the flood waters overtook the residence. ... When told of the sequence of phone calls that Broussard described, Rodrigue said 'No, no, that's not true. ... I contacted the nursing home two days before the storm on Saturday, [August] the 27th and again on Sunday the 28th. ... At the same time I talked to the nursing home I had also talked to the emergency manager ... to encourage that nursing home to evacuate.' ... Rodrigue says he never made any calls after Monday, the day he figures his mother died. ... Officials believe the residents of St. Rita's died on Monday the 29th, not on Friday, September 2, as Broussard has suggested." Your comments obviously --
BROUSSARD: Sir, this --
RUSSERT: Go ahead.
BROUSSARD: Sir, this gentleman's mother died on that Friday before I came on the show. My own staff came up to me and said what had happened. I had no idea his mother was in the nursing home. It was related to me by my own staff, who had tears in their eyes, what had happened. That's what they told me. I went to that man, who I love very much and respect very much, and he had collapsed like a deck of cards. And I took him and put him in my hospital room with my prayer books and told him to sit there and cry out and pray away and give honor to his mother with his tears and his prayers.
Now, everything that was told to me about the preface of that was told to me by my own employees. Do you think I would interrogate a man whose mother just died and said, "Tommy, I want to know everything about why your mother just died"? The staff, his own staff, told me those words. Sir, that woman is the epitome of abandonment. She was left in that nursing home. She died in that nursing home. Tommy will tell you that he tried to rescue her and could not get her rescued. Tommy could tell you that he sent messages there through the EOC [emergency operations center] and through, I think, the sheriff's department, "Tell Mama everything's going to be OK. Tell Mama we're coming to get her."
Listen, sir, somebody wants to nitpick a man's tragic loss of a mother because she was abandoned in a nursing home? Are you kidding? What kind of sick mind, what kind of black-hearted people want to nitpick a man's mother's death? They just buried Eva last week. I was there at the wake. Are you kidding me? That wasn't a box of Cheerios they buried last week. That was a man's mother whose story, if it is entirely broadcast, will be the epitome of abandonment. It will be the saddest tale you ever heard. A man who was responsible for safekeeping of a half a million people, mother's died in the next parish because she was abandoned there and he can't get to her. And he tried to get to her through EOC, he tried to get through the sheriff's office. He tries every way he can to get there. Somebody wants to debate those things? My God, what sick-minded person wants to do that?What kind of agenda is going on here?
Mother Nature doesn't have a political party. Mother Nature can vote a person dead, and Mother Nature can vote a community out of existence. But Mother Nature is not playing any political games here. Somebody better wake up. You want to come and live in this community and see the tragedy we're living in? Are you sitting there having your coffee, you're in a place where toilets flush and lights go on and everything's a dream, and you pick up your paper and you want to battle ideology and political chess games? Man, get out of my face. Whoever wants to do that, get out of my face.
RUSSERT: Mr. Broussard, the people who are questioning your comments are saying that you accused the federal government and the bureaucracy of murder, specifically calling on the secretary of Homeland Security and using this as an example to denounce the federal government. And what they're saying is, in fact, it was the local government that did not evacuate Eva Rodrigue on Friday or on Saturday. And they're making that, in fact --
BROUSSARD: Sir --
RUSSERT: Let me just finish. I'll give you a chance to respond.
RUSSERT: And, in fact, the owners of the nursing home, Salvador and Mable Mangano, have been indicted with 34 counts of negligent homicide by the Louisiana state attorney general. So it was the owners of the nursing home and the local government that are responsible for the lack of evacuation and not the federal government. Is that fair?
BROUSSARD: Sir, with everything I said on Meet the Press, the last punctuation of my statements were the story that I was going to tell in about maybe two sentences. It just got emotional for me, sir. Talk about the context of everything I said. Were we abandoned by the federal government? Absolutely we were. Were there more people that abandoned us? Make the list. The list can go on for miles. That's for history to document. That's what Congress does best, burn witches. Let Congress do their hearings. Let them find the witches. Let them burn them. The media burns witches better than anybody. Let the media go find the witches and burn them. But as I stood on the ground, sir, for day after day after day after day, nobody came here, sir. Nobody came. The federal government didn't come. The Red Cross didn't come. I'll give you a list of people that didn't come here, sir, and I was here.
So anybody that's saying, "Oh, they were all here," you know, they weren't living on my planet, there weren't living in my parish. They did not come. I can't make it any more clearer than that. Did inefficiencies, did bureaucracy commit murder here? Absolutely, it did. And Congress and the media will flush it out and find it out, and those people will be held accountable. You've already given an example. These people in the nursing home in St. Bernard, they're getting indicted. Good. They ought to be indicted. They ought to get good old-fashioned Western justice. They ought to be taken out and administered to like they did in the Old West.
Yes, there's a lot of people that they're going to find that are going to be villains in this situation, but they're also going to find for the most part that the Peter Principle was squared. The Peter Principle is you promote somebody to the level of incompetency, but when you promote somebody to the level of incompetency in a life-or-death department, then those people should be ousted. Those people should be strung up. Those people should be burned at the stake. And I'm sure Congress and the press is going to do that.
RUSSERT: At the local, state and federal level.
BROUSSARD: Sir, at every level. Are you kidding? This is a jigsaw puzzle. This is a mosaic. The blame will be shared by everybody. The heroic deeds will be magnified as individual stories of heroics come out from different people and agencies that did eventually come here. Sir, this is chaos. It's organized chaos at best. There are plenty of heroes that have to be uncovered. There are plenty of villains that have to be uncovered. Let the process go on. Let it happen. I don't have time to do it, sir. I didn't even watch my own broadcast that you played to me in my ear. It pained me to hear that again because Tommy Rodrigue is a friend of mine. He works for me. I was at his mother's wake.
When somebody wants to nit-pick these details, I don't know what sick minds creates this black-hearted agenda, but it's sick. I mean, let us recover. Let us rebuild. If somebody wants me to debate them on national TV, hey, buddy, be my guest. Make my day. Put me at a podium when I got a full night's sleep, and you will not like matching me against anybody that you want. That person is going to be in trouble. If this station or anybody else or any other station wants to do that, you just give me a full night's sleep, sir. I haven't had one in about 30 days. But you wind me up with a full night's sleep, I'll debate every detail of everything you want, sir.
RUSSERT: Aaron Broussard, the president of Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, we thank you for coming on and correcting the record and putting it in context. And we wish you well and to all your people in the recovery. And we hope to talk to you again.
BROUSSARD: Thank you, sir.