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As a guest co-host on Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, National Review editor Rich Lowry smeared Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco with the accusation that she "deliberately" blocked the American Red Cross from entering New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in an attempt to "starve out the evacuees there." Lowry's accusation represents a further escalation in rhetoric from statements by Red Cross president and CEO Marsha J. "Marty" Evans in her most recent version of events, a version that also happens to be, as Media Matters for America has noted, consistent with the Bush administration's efforts to re-direct blame for failures in the relief effort onto state and local officials.
During a September 6 interview on Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, Evans stated that the Red Cross "was ready from literally the moment after the storm passed," but was "not allowed to go into New Orleans by ... the state homeland security authorities" because "they did not want us to go in because they were trying to evacuate the city." Lowry transformed Evans's characterization -- which already was a shift from earlier statements on why the Red Cross had not entered the city -- into a smear, claiming that Blanco blocked the Red Cross from entering the city in order to "starve out the evacuees there."
In fact, Evans's September 6 interview was not the first time she had addressed the issue of why the Red Cross did not enter New Orleans. 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. 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 frequently-asked-questions (FAQ) document apparently posted to the Red Cross website on September 2 also stated: "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."
But in her September 6 interview on The O'Reilly Factor, Evans claimed that the Red Cross was desperate to enter New Orleans but was blocked by the state department of homeland security. 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, the smear by Lowry -- which echoes similar claims widely repeated by conservative commentators -- overlooks the federal government's responsibility to oversee and coordinate relief efforts. As Media Matters has noted, 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 the Federal Emergency Management Agency (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 the September 9 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes:
LOWRY: Joining us now is radio talk show host Michael Reagan and Newsweek contributing editor Eleanor Clift. Thanks to both of you for joining us. Eleanor, let me start with you, and we'll get to our friends, the celebrities, in a moment. But let me ask you, since we have this blame game now going in full force in Washington, do you personally think it was a good idea for the state of Louisiana to deliberately block Red Cross supplies from the Superdome and the convention center last week in an attempt, in effect, to starve out the evacuees there?
CLIFT: Well, the blame game is a derogatory term for accountability. And we've had failures on the part of government and our leaders at the local level, at the state level --
LOWRY: So that was a mistake? That was a mistake?
CLIFT: And at the presidential -- yes, and at the presidential level --
LOWRY: So you tonight are holding Governor Blanco accountable for trying to starve out evacuees last week from the Superdome and the convention center? For the record, you're holding her accountable?
CLIFT: She was trying to get people to leave, I would say. I think she has --