Katrina amnesia continues: CNN's Whitfield failed to ask Duffy about Bush's levee comment

››› ››› SIMON MALOY

While interviewing White House deputy press secretary Trent Duffy on the March 2 edition of CNN's Live From... about newly released video of President Bush receiving warnings that the New Orleans levees might fail, news anchor Fredricka Whitfield joined a growing list of journalists who seem to have entirely forgotten that Bush claimed, two days after the storm, that "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees."

While interviewing White House deputy press secretary Trent Duffy on the March 2 edition of CNN's Live From... about newly released video of President Bush receiving dire warnings about Hurricane Katrina -- including warnings that the New Orleans levees might fail -- news anchor Fredricka Whitfield joined a growing list of journalists who seem to have entirely forgotten that Bush claimed, two days after the storm, that "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees." At no point during the interview did Whitfield ask Duffy about the apparent contradiction between the clear warnings Bush received about the levees possibly failing and his claim afterward that no one anticipated the levees would be breached.

Whitfield's failure was particularly glaring, given the following claim by Duffy during the interview:

DUFFY: As to [head of the National Hurricane Center in Miami] Mr. [Max] Mayfield's comments about the levees, the White House was very well aware and concerned about the integrity of the levees. The video teleconference on August 29 [2005] has the White House deputy chief of staff Joseph Hagan asking specifically that question: "How are the levees? Are they holding up?"

A follow-up question from Whitfield should have been obvious: "Then, why did President Bush say, two days after the storm, that no one anticipated the breach of the levees?"

As Media Matters for America has documented, in March 2 stories on the video, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and USA Today also failed to mention Bush's post-Katrina statement about the levees. In her interview with Duffy, Whitfield asked him why Bush and members of his administration claimed that "they didn't expect it to be this bad," and about the "disconnect" the video demonstrated, but never actually asked Duffy about Bush's specific claim, made on the September 1, 2005, edition of ABC's Good Morning America, that "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees."

From the March 2 edition of CNN's Live From...:

WHITFIELD: Well, let's go to the North Lawn where White House deputy press secretary Trent Duffy is responding to this FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] tape story. Good to see you, Trent.

DUFFY: Thanks for having me, Fredricka. How are you?

WHITFIELD: I'm good. So, what is the explanation? Why is it that immediately after Katrina, we heard from Mr. Bush and many others on down that they didn't expect it to be this bad, when come to find out, the tape revealed everyone was on board? That there might be a levee breach?

DUFFY: Well, again, I have to reject this notion that the president wasn't aware of the warning. He absolutely was, Fredricka. He --

WHITFIELD: He was part of that conference though, right?

DUFFY: That's right. That was pre-landfall. But let's remember what he did before landfall, Fredricka. He took the extraordinary step of signing emergency disaster declarations ahead of landfall. It's only been done since -- once since the 1990s. He also took part in ordering and asking public officials to order a mandatory evacuation. He also, on August 28th [2005], before landfall, told the American people and CNN cameras -- I don't see a lot of that tape running -- that he personally knew that the storm was going to be devastating and dangerous. And he urged the people in the Gulf Coast to obey the mandatory evacuation order. So, the president was well aware that this was a very devastating and dangerous hurricane.

As to Mr. Mayfield's comments about the -- the levees, the White House was very well aware and concerned about the integrity of the levees. The video teleconference on August 29th [2005] has White House deputy chief of staff Joseph Hagan asking specifically that question: "How are the levees? Are they holding up?" And [Louisiana] Governor [Kathleen Babineaux] Blanco [D] on the same video teleconference said, "We don't have confirmation that the levees have in fact been breached." So --

WHITFIELD: So, where is the disconnect, then? Because clearly this still underscores the fact that there were a lot of agencies and leaders who were not all in concert as to what to do, when to do it, and how to respond.

DUFFY: Well, I think the disconnect, really, is the fact that this was a huge storm. And remember, the president said he was not satisfied with the federal response effort. But on the other hand, we have to remember that, for Katrina, we pre-positioned more manpower, and material, and federal troops in that region than we have ever before.

[...]

WHITFIELD: Do you think that the revealing now -- the public revealing of this tape in anyway kind of vindicates [former FEMA director] Michael Brown, and that perhaps when he says that there was "a fog of bureaucracy" that perhaps he's right?

DUFFY: Well, that was one of the lessons learned. I know Michael Brown on August 29th [2005] was actually praising the president for being engaged, and being very hands-on, and making sure that things were getting where they needed to go. But there is a bureaucracy, and unfortunately, government is pretty good at red tape. And in a crisis like Katrina, or something of that sort, red tape is inexcusable. And that's why the president has people like [Lt.] General [Russel] Honoré and his Homeland Security officials going right now, trying to cut through all that red tape.

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