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News articles published on September 11 by the Knight Ridder news service and the Palm Beach Daily News reported as fact that Louisiana state officials, including Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, blocked the American Red Cross from bringing relief to survivors of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.
The Palm Beach Daily News reported: "The workers were told they would not be allowed to set up aid stations because the Louisiana Department of Homeland Security wanted people to leave the battered city, and officials feared that feeding and aid stations would discourage them from leaving."
In the Sept. 1 portion of a Katrina timeline (registration required) titled "Lessons from the Tragedy," Knight Ridder reported:
At times, state officials also seemed to stand in the way of relief measures. ... The Red Cross begged to be allowed to distribute aid at the convention center, but was apparently blocked by Louisiana officials. National director Marty Evans made a personal plea to Blanco, the governor. But state officials said to wait for better conditions.
Both articles echo the most recent version of events offered by Red Cross president and CEO Marsha J. "Marty" Evans, a version that also happens to be, as Media Matters for America has noted, entirely consistent with the Bush administration's efforts to re-direct blame for failures in the relief effort onto state and local officials.The Daily News and Knight Ridder accounts echo reports that have also appeared on Fox News and other conservative media over the past week. On the September 11 broadcast of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace and Fox News Washington managing editor Brit Hume continued to repeat Fox's pattern of misinformation.
In echoing the version of events first articulated by Evans on the September 6 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, the Daily News, Knight Ridder, and Fox all omitted a key fact: In earlier statements by Evans and the Red Cross, the organization made clear that it concurred with the assessment by officials on the ground that New Orleans proper was unsafe for the Red Cross to enter. As Media Matters has noted , in a September 2 interview with CNN's Larry King, Evans agreed that the Red Cross had not entered New Orleans because "it was not safe to be in the city, and it's not been safe to go back into the city ... We were asked -- directed -- by the National Guard and the city and the state emergency management not to go into New Orleans because it was not safe." A Red Cross frequently-asked-questions (FAQ) document apparently posted on September 2 also notes, "We are an organization of civilian volunteers and cannot get relief aid into any location until the local authorities say it is safe and provide us with security and access." During the 1 p.m. ET segment of Fox News Live on September 8, a local Red Cross spokesman in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, apparently still held to this position. Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson asked Red Cross spokesman Jason Golden whether the organization was "on board with this mission, then, to not have the Red Cross in New Orleans?" He responded, "Absolutely."
But during a September 6 interview on Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, Evans changed her tune. Under her new version of events, the Red Cross was desperate to go in but was blocked by the state department of homeland security:
EVANS: And I want your audience to know that the Red Cross was ready from literally the moment after the storm passed through to go into New Orleans. We were not allowed to go in by the homeland security -- the state homeland security authorities.
It was left to host Bill O'Reilly to remind Evans, and his viewers, of what the Red Cross had originally said, in agreement with the authorities on the ground. O'Reilly stated: "[A] lot of it has to do with your security of your people. In the first days after the hurricane, there was no security in the town."
Moreover, none of the three media outlets giving the Red Cross' latest account has noted the organization's inconsistent statements on whether the group was "requested" to stay out of the city or was actually prevented from entering. While Evans told Larry King on September 2 both that the Red Cross was "asked" and that it was "directed" to stay out of New Orleans, the FAQ said that the state homeland security department had "requested" relief workers not to go in. Notwithstanding this ambiguity, all three media outlets -- the Daily News, Knight Ridder, and Fox -- adopted Evans's September 6 assertion that the Red Cross was not allowed in. Oddly , the Daily News quoted Dean Dimke, executive director of the American Red Cross' Palm Beach County chapter, saying, "The state Homeland Security Department had requested -- and, as of Friday, continues to request -- that the American Red Cross not enter New Orleans following the hurricane," but the paper characterized that purported request as a "barrier" and a "roadblock."
Most important, all three of the media outlets' reports made a glaring omission: They ignored the fact that the federal government should have been coordinating and overseeing relief efforts. If the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had deemed it necessary for the Red Cross to be in New Orleans, FEMA should have bypassed the state officials who were purportedly preventing the relief organization from going in. As Media Matters noted, the American Red Cross charter states that it is supposed to "maintain a system of domestic and international disaster relief, including mandated responsibilities under the Federal Response Plan coordinated by FEMA." The December 2004 National Response Plan (NRP), the federal Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) most recent plan for coordinated federal response to disasters, confirms the Red Cross' status as a "primary agency" that will, under the oversight of FEMA and DHS, coordinate "federal mass care resources" to affected areas. Moreover, in a "catastrophic event," such as what befell New Orleans, the NRP directs FEMA to act on its own authority to quickly provide assistance and conduct emergency operations, bypassing state and local authorities if necessary.
From a September 11 article in the Palm Beach Daily News:
As the nation listened to broadcast reports of fellow citizens slowly dying of thirst, disease or starvation deep inside the Superdome, the question on many lips was, "Why isn't the Red Cross there?"
Well, they were there -- as were several other disaster relief agencies -- with supplies and personnel positioned near the Superdome, where the need would be greatest, awaiting the green light.
Instead, they got a roadblock.
After Katrina passed, National Guardsmen patrolling the roads refused to let Red Cross workers pass.
The workers were told they would not be allowed to set up aid stations because the Louisiana Department of Homeland Security wanted people to leave the battered city, and officials feared that feeding and aid stations would discourage them from leaving.
From Wallace's interview with Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) and Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) on the September 11 broadcast of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday,:
WALLACE: Let me bring David Vitter in. Was it was incompetent -- if I might ask you another question, sir. Was it incompetent and insulting for the Louisiana department of homeland security -- I'm talking about the state, not the feds -- to tell the Red Cross and the Salvation Army that they couldn't go into the city in the middle of the first week when they said they were ready to go, they had the provisions to go, and it was the state that kept them out?
VITTER: Yes, it was, Chris. And I guess I have a different take than Mary. When I made those comments in the first week, I gave the entire big government organized effort, relief effort, a failing grade across the board. That certainly included FEMA, obviously. But it also included the state bureaucracy and some elements at the local level. And so I think we, in the hearings that will come, we need to ask a lot of pointed and tough questions to a lot of different people, certainly including the feds and certainly including FEMA, but including many, many others to get a true understanding of all that went wrong and what we need to do differently.
From later in the same Fox News Sunday broadcast, during a panel segment with FOX News contributors Mara Liasson and Juan Williams of National Public Radio and Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard:
HUME: And the third failure was the -- the other failure, I should say, the second was -- you see the president's approval rating there has been hammered by all of this and I suspect local officials will as well -- but was the failure to give relief supplies to those who couldn't or didn't or wouldn't get out of the city. And there, the governor bears clearly the responsibility, would not let the two agencies who were prime movers and partners of FEMA, the Salvation Army and the Red Cross, both mentioned in the law creating FEMA as an integral part of what FEMA does, into the city.
WILLIAMS: You can try to make lemonade out of this, but these are lemons Brit, and you gotta to recognize that FEMA even failed to recognize the extent of the crisis.
HUME: That's absurd.
WILLIAMS: That's not absurd. [DHS Secretary] Michael Chertoff was on NPR talking to [NPR host] Robert Siegel saying, "Oh I don't think there's a problem at the convention center." He didn't even know about it, and it was on Fox, and he could turn on the cable and watch the problem.
HUME: See what's interesting about that is, you're talking about what people said. You can't tell me anything that anybody really did that made any effective difference. In other words, what triggered this crisis and this scene, political scene in Washington, were the pictures of those people in the city of New Orleans in terrible physical condition, exposed to the out of doors, people who couldn't be gotten out of that city. What kept relief supplies from reaching them? The governor.
WILLIAMS: The governor? Not the governor.
HUME: Yes, Juan.
WILLIAMS: No it wasn't, it was the failure of FEMA to take action --
HUME: Juan, you have no idea what you're talking about.
WILLIAMS: Brit, you're stuck here in Washington and you're out of touch with the reality of, you had FEMA not able to understand where the crisis was, where the need was --
HUME: Juan, Juan.
WILLIAMS: -- or put in place any steps. Even Governor Blanco says trying to get through to the president, can't reach the president --
HUME: Juan --
WILLIAMS: -- can't reach [White House chief of staff] Andy Card --
HUME: -- Juan, do you know why the governor wouldn't allow the Salvation Army and the Red Cross, who were primary first responders, major FEMA partners, into the city? Because, she has told them she was trying to get people out of the city. Now that makes sense on a certain -- excuse me -- that makes sense on a certain level. But once it became clear that those people would not or could not get out of the city, she sent guards, she did send the National Guard into New Orleans to the Superdome, and the Guard handed out a certain amount of supplies. But the vast amount of material that could have been made available, was made available, was in staging areas ready to go in there, was kept out, and it was kept out by the governor.