Limbaugh advances numerous falsehoods while discussing Hurricane Katrina

››› ››› JEREMY SCHULMAN & JOE BROWN

Since Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the Gulf Coast August 29, the storm and its aftermath have been frequent topics of discussion on Rush Limbaugh's nationally syndicated radio show. In the days since the storm struck, Limbaugh has advanced several falsehoods related to the storm and official efforts to bring aid to its victims. Media Matters for America has identified the following Katrina-related falsehoods spread by Limbaugh on his radio show.

Falsehood #1: When Bush said nobody "anticipated the breach of the levees" in New Orleans, he meant that nobody anticipated they would break after the hurricane had passed

On the September 8 broadcast of The Rush Limbaugh Show, Limbaugh claimed that President Bush's discredited assertion that no one had anticipated the breach of the New Orleans levees was intended to mean that no one anticipated the levees would break "after the storm had passed," echoing Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff's failed attempt to spin the president's remarks during an appearance on NBC's Meet the Press.

At the time, Chertoff argued that Bush was referring to news accounts that claimed New Orleans had survived the worst of the storm. In fact, several news sources reported flooding in New Orleans on August 29, the day the storm hit the city, including a post on the weblog of the New Orleans Times-Picayune -- dated 2 p.m. CT on August 29 -- reporting that "City Hall confirmed a breach of the levee along the 17th Street Canal at Bellaire Drive, allowing water to spill into Lakeview." This initial report on the Times-Picayune weblog was followed throughout the afternoon and evening of August 29 by reports of other levee breaks and massive flooding. Also, according to a September 11 Washington Post article, on August 29 "[a]t 11 a.m., ABC News reported that some New Orleans levees had been breached."

Furthermore, just hours after the storm passed on August 29, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) director Michael D. Brown confirmed that the potential for catastrophic flooding remained. In an interview with Brown, NBC Today co-host Matt Lauer noted, "In New Orleans, in particular, they're worried about the levees giving way or the canals not holding, and they're worried about toxic runoff." Brown responded that even though the storm had weakened, there was still a 15- to 20-foot storm surge causing "the water out of Lake Pontchartrain and the Gulf and the Mississippi continue to converge upon Louisiana." Brown added, "So we're still ready for a major disaster."

From the September 8 broadcast of The Rush Limbaugh Show:

LIMBAUGH: I read the other day -- yesterday -- that there are two options with the Superdome. By the way, one more thing. About this [Sen.] Mary Landrieu [D-LA] business -- Bush did not say nobody anticipated the levees would fail before the hurricane. This is a key thing that you people must know. She took the president's quote out of context. He was talking after the storm had passed and the levees, at that point, held. The city was dry the second day. Nobody anticipated then that the levees would break. That's what he was talking about. If they had survived the storm, then nobody expected them to break after that. And that's probably true, you know, on the part of a lot of people.

Falsehood #2: Local and state officials failed to provide necessities for those trapped in the Superdome because they expected to send people home after a few hours

On September 6, Limbaugh claimed that people "had to bring their own food and water to the Superdome. Why? Because even the local experts thought it was gonna be just a period of hours that they will spend shielded and protected from wind and rain and they'd come out and go home."

But this statement is flatly contradicted by New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin's August 28 press conference announcing a mandatory evacuation of the city and warning those unable to evacuate to come to the Superdome "with enough food, perishable items to last for three to five days. Come with blankets, with pillows. ... It's not going to be the best environment, but at least you will be safe."

From the September 6 broadcast of The Rush Limbaugh Show:

LIMBAUGH: I know they were told to go to the Superdome, but even then they had to walk to the Superdome. And they had to bring their own food and water to the Superdome. Why? Because even the local experts thought it was gonna be just a period of hours that they will spend shielded and protected from wind and rain and they'd come out and go home. We also know that when any level of bureaucracy fails, the first order of business is to point blame at some other bureaucracy. To try to take the heat off of the people who are directly responsible for the failure to enact already written, documented, and even tested evacuation plans.

Falsehood #3: New Orleans residents were forced to walk to the Superdome because officials failed to provide buses to transport them

On September 6, Limbaugh also claimed that "people who have no transportation ... were told to walk to the Superdome or to get there on their own, however they could get there. ... 'Bring your own food. Use the hoof express. Get yourself to the Superdome.' "

In fact, several articles from the Times-Picayune made clear that public buses were used to transport people to the Superdome:

  • August 28: "Regional Transit Authority [RTA] buses were scheduled to ferry people to the dome from 12 locations around the city beginning at noon today."
  • August 28: "The Regional Transit Authority will deploy 10 buses equipped with a special lift to help handicapped residents get to the Superdome this morning, RTA spokeswoman Rosalind Blanco Cook said."
  • August 29: "Geraldine Johnson, 67, has no car. So she and her 41-year-old daughter and three grandchildren, ages 8, 10 and 12, caught the bus from [the] Algiers [neighborhood of New Orleans] early Sunday and landed at the Dome after 11 a.m."
  • August 29: "As an RTA bus prepared to take another load of residents to the Dome, a family of nine pulled up in a faded blue Ford pickup, with Eddie Mason driving. The back was packed with children along with clothes, blankets and other essentials."

From the September 6 broadcast of The Rush Limbaugh Show:

LIMBAUGH: Now by the way, it [New Orleans' plan for emergency evacuation] also stipulates that for people who have no transportation, that city municipal transportation, school buses, public buses will be used to get them out of the city. Remember, these people were told to walk to the Superdome or to get their on their own, however they could get there, to bring their own food. This is their local government that was promising them all these years to take care of them. "Bring your own food; use the hoof express, get yourself to the Superdome. By the way, we don't expect the electricity to last all night 'cause this is a bad storm." So we know the bathrooms aren't gonna work.

Falsehood #4: Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) demanded $300 cash for each of her constituents as part of a 1993 Mississippi River flood relief bill

On September 7, Limbaugh claimed that during debate over a 1993 Mississippi River flood relief bill in the House of Representatives, a bill he erroneously suggested was drafted in 1996, "Maxine Waters said, 'I'm not gonna vote for this until, uh, every one of my citizens, every one of my constituents in my district gets 300 bucks cash.' ... They had a flood relief package for Mississippi River flood victims and ... Maxine Waters's constituents in South Central [Los Angeles] ... They got 300 bucks."

In fact, far from demanding "300 bucks cash" for each of her constituents as Limbaugh asserted, Waters added an amendment to the flood relief bill authorizing the release of funds appropriated for a job training program already approved in earlier legislation. On July 28, 1993, The Washington Post reported that the amendment "authoriz[ed] $100 weekly stipends to unemployed adults 30 and under while they receive job training. The language was attached at the behest of Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), who won approval of the $50 million training program with earlier supplemental appropriations."

From the September 7 broadcast of The Rush Limbaugh Show:

LIMBAUGH: When was the -- when was, uh, the bad Mississippi River flood? It was back in the '90s sometime. Was it '96 [sic: 1993]? Talked about this last week, 'cause I remember some people called here. "We shouldn't bail out people who lived in the flood plain. They know they shouldn't live there. They should have their own insurance. Why should we bail 'em out?" Remember those calls?

Well, during the debates in Washington on relief efforts for those lives damaged and destroyed by the, uh, or livelihoods I should say, damaged and destroyed by the, uh, the -- those floods. Maxine Waters rode in. She's the, uh, congressperson from South Central Los Angeles, and Maxine Waters said, "I'm not gonna vote for this until every one of my citizens, every one of my constituents in my district gets 300 bucks cash." And, of course, everybody said, "What? You've gotta be kidding." So she stomped her foot and said, "No, I'm not." And she ended up getting it. They had a flood relief package for Mississippi River flood victims and, uh, uh, related, uh, related damage. Maxine Waters's constituents in South Central [Los Angeles] -- I think the -- isn't this, it's -- it's the same thing. They got 300 bucks.

Falsehood #5: Humans can't stop global warming; therefore, humans can't be causing it

On August 31, Limbaugh used a discussion of whether global warming contributed to the strength of Hurricane Katrina as a segue into his frequently asserted claim -- previously debunked by Media Matters for America -- that humans are not contributing to global warming. Limbaugh argued, "Nobody can prove that man's causing [climate change]. To me, the proof that man is not causing this is that there's nothing we can do to stop it."

Limbaugh's claim rests on the logical fallacy that humans are incapable of causing a process that they cannot stop. By this logic, one could similarly assert that since a single person cannot stop a forest fire, a single person could not possibly cause a forest fire. As convicted arsonists can attest, any person with a can of gasoline and a match can easily prove this wrong.

Limbaugh's claim is also circular: He argues, in essence, that we shouldn't do anything to try to stop global warming because we didn't create it, and we know we didn't create it because we can't stop it.

From the August 31 broadcast of The Rush Limbaugh Show:

LIMBAUGH: Where I part ways from you is that man is causing it. There is no evidence of that. Zilch. Zero. Nada. There's nothing more than a 25-year, shrill campaign to create subconsciously the idea in everybody's mind that when it gets hot in July and hot in August, it must be global warming. When it gets cold and a snowstorm happens in January, and it happens a little bit -- be more intense than it was last year, must be global warming. Nobody can prove it. Nobody can prove that man's causing this. To me, the proof that man is not causing this is that there's nothing we can do to stop it. This hurricane was said to be caused by global warming. Well, this hurricane weakened right before it hit, and it had nothing to do with the ocean temperature. It had to do with some dry air that it encountered and pushed it further east.

Falsehood #6: Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) "probably voted" to place FEMA under authority of Department of Homeland Security

On September 6, Limbaugh claimed, "Nancy Pelosi probably voted to put FEMA in Homeland Security." In fact, during the House consideration of, HR 5005, the bill establishing the Department of Homeland Security, Pelosi was among 165 members who voted for a failed amendment to preserve FEMA's status as an independent, cabinet-level agency.

From the September 8 broadcast of The Rush Limbaugh Show:

LIMBAUGH: So it [the Red Cross] was there [in New Orleans after the hurricane]. It was ready to go. FEMA is not a first-response agency. FEMA's got 2,500 employees. Nancy Pelosi probably voted to put FEMA in Homeland Security. This is my point. These people get around, ah, get to run around acting like spectators and bystanders. They are the ones that create this red tape. They are the ones that create bureaucracy upon bureaucracy upon bureaucracy.

Falsehood #7: President Bush called Blanco, asking her to declare a state of emergency and evacuate New Orleans, but she refused

On September 6, Limbaugh offered a revised version of the dubious claim by other conservatives that it took an August 28 phone call from President Bush to convince Blanco to order the mandatory evacuation of New Orleans. Limbaugh stated, "President Bush on Sunday [August 28] begged the governor to get everybody out of [New Orleans]; declare an emergency. She said, 'No, I need 24 hours to decide.' "

In fact, as Media Matters has previously documented (here and here), an August 28 statement by Blanco and a September 7 statement by White House press secretary Scott McClellan make it clear that the president called the governor shortly before the start of the August 28 press conference at which Nagin called for the evacuation of the city, casting serious doubt on the claim that Bush's phone call was a factor in the decision to evacuate.

Additionally, Limbaugh conflated Blanco's decision to "declare an emergency" with the decision "to get everybody out of [New Orleans]." Media Matters has previously documented that these were separate events: Blanco declared a state of emergency for Louisiana on August 26 and Nagin declared the mandatory evacuation of New Orleans two days later, on August 28. Moreover, it was Blanco who asked President Bush to declare a federal state of emergency in Louisiana on August 27, not the other way around, as Limbaugh claimed.

Limbaugh also conflated the president's telephoned request for Blanco to push for a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans with a separate request the president made to deploy active-duty and National Guard troops to the relief effort under joint federal and state command. "Under the White House plan, Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honoré would oversee both the National Guard and the active duty federal troops, reporting jointly to the president and Ms. Blanco," The New York Times reported on September 5. In an interview that aired on the September 5 edition of CNN Live at Daybreak, Nagin told CNN's Soledad O'Brien that Bush made this request during a meeting aboard Air Force One on September 2, and that Blanco told the president she "needed 24 hours to make a decision." Blanco refused, fearing she would "lose control when she had been in control from the very beginning," according to the governor's press secretary, Denise Bottcher, who was quoted by the Times.

From the September 6 broadcast of The Rush Limbaugh Show:

LIMBAUGH: We also know that President Bush on Sunday [August 28] begged the governor to get everybody out of there, declare an emergency. She said, "No, I need 24 hours to decide." We now have the mayor, Ray Nagin -- and we have the audio of this, it happened on CNN today. The mayor is now trying to pass the buck to the governor, claiming that the governor was the one that was holding up the decision-making process. We also know that the governors, governors are in charge of the National Guard. Everybody wants to know: Why didn't Bush send the Guard? Well, the governors have to do this, and that's why Bush wanted her to declare an emergency, so that he could get a foot in the door.

Posted In
Environment & Science
Stories/Interests
Hurricane Katrina
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