AP highlighted Bush's promise of stronger New Orleans levees; ignored White House's reluctance to commit to Category 5 storm protection

››› ››› JOSH KALVEN

An Associated Press article covering President Bush's January 12 visit to storm-devastated New Orleans highlighted his insistence that "stronger promised levee protection will make the city both safer and more attractive for investment." But the article made no mention of the White House's refusal to commit to a levee system designed to withstand the most severe storms, on which numerous other news outlets have reported.

An Associated Press article covering President Bush's January 12 visit to storm-battered New Orleans highlighted his insistence that "stronger promised levee protection will make the city both safer and more attractive for investment." But the article made no mention of the significant concern surrounding the strength of the new levees promised by the Bush administration. As numerous other news outlets reported, the White House has repeatedly refused to commit to a levee system designed to withstand the most severe storms, provoking considerable consternation from local officials and residents.

The January 13 AP article, headlined "Bush Plays Booster-in-Chief in New Orleans," noted that the president had "offered a fresh commitment to the region's long, expensive rebuilding and spoke optimistically about progress in New Orleans." The article went on to highlight his comments regarding the levees:

Bush praised the city's success in getting services like electricity and water mostly on line, said new federal tax incentives will encourage businesses to create jobs and insisted stronger promised levee protection will make the city both safer and more attractive for investment. All those things, he said, will help turn New Orleans back into a "shining part of the South."

But Bush's insistence that the proposed levee reconstruction would improve safety and encourage reinvestment puts him at odds with local officials, many of whom contend that only a levee system designed to protect the city from a Category 5 storm would successfully bring businesses and residents back to the area. The Bush administration has generally avoided specifics regarding the strength of the levees, instead merely asserting that the new system will be "better and safer than it's ever been before." Most recently, the White House secured $2.9 billion in levee funding, which is estimated to ensure protection against only a Category 3 storm.

Unlike the AP, other news outlets noted the controversy surrounding the levee issue. A January 13 New Orleans Times-Picayune article described the strength of the proposed levees as "the paramount issue for rebuilding" and noted the Bush administration's "coy" avoidance of the issue -- both during this trip and in the past:

But on what most city leaders consider the paramount issue for rebuilding -- the construction of a levee system that could withstand a hit from a Category 5 storm -- Bush remained coy. In fact, neither he nor [federal coordinator for Gulf Coast recovery and rebuilding Donald] Powell, who flew down on Air Force One with Bush and attended the meeting, have ever voiced support for Category 5 storm protection, which carries an uncertain price tag and could take years to complete. Asked directly about it on several occasions, both men carefully sidestepped the matter, and Bush did so again Thursday.

"The mayor has made it clear to me we need a strong federal policy on levees in order to encourage investors and investment," Bush said. He then promised a web of storm protection, "stronger and better than the previous system," but did not mention Category 5.

Similarly, a January 13 Los Angeles Times article characterized levee reconstruction as "the linchpin to rebuilding New Orleans" and noted that the White House "has come under for fire for failing to commit" to Category 5 protection:

During his meeting with several small-business owners, politicians and other community leaders, Bush hailed his administration's commitment to spend $3.1 billion on rebuilding and strengthening the levees. They are considered the linchpin to rebuilding New Orleans, allowing the city to exist below sea level and avoid another catastrophic flood should a storm strike again. He emphasized that the federal government had authorized $85 billion for rebuilding the Gulf Coast overall, and that $25 billion was already being spent.

But the White House has come under fire for failing to commit to building a more expensive levee system that could guard against the strongest possible hurricane, a Category 5 level storm. The new levees would protect against an estimated Category 2 or 3.

The Times article went on to cite a January 11 Times-Picayune editorial that "pleaded" for the president to endorse the strongest possible levee system:

An editorial in the Times-Picayune published the day before Bush's visit, headlined "Mr. President, we need you," pleaded with the White House to back levees that could guard against a Category 5 hurricane. The editorial said Bush would find a city in the "throes of recovery" -- but full of worry as well.

"They worry that the White House isn't committed to protecting the region from the fiercest hurricanes," the newspaper said. "They worry about whether their neighborhoods will be safe in the long run. They worry about whether they -- and their neighbors -- can afford to rebuild."

A January 13 New York Times article noted that a White House commitment to Category 5 protection was "what many [city residents] were hoping to hear." The Times also mentioned a local protest on the levee issue that had occurred during Bush's visit:

He did not go into the city's hardest-hit areas or to Jackson Square, where several hundred girls from the Academy of the Sacred Heart staged a protest demanding stronger levees.

[...]

Mr. Bush, who appeared to be trying to spread optimism in a city that is years away from recovery, did not tell the group or the city's residents what many were hoping to hear: that he would commit the federal government to building the strongest possible levees, a Category 5 storm protection system.

Instead, on a day when the Bush administration revised the deficit upward to more than $400 billion and blamed it largely on Hurricane Katrina, Mr. Bush restated his support for spending $3.1 billion of federal money on building "stronger and better" levees.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy
Network/Outlet
Associated Press
Stories/Interests
Hurricane Katrina, Natural Disasters
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