AP's clarification on Katrina levee breaches ignored key facts

››› ››› SIMON MALOY

An Associated Press clarification of a previous story about video footage showing President Bush being briefed about Hurricane Katrina not only echoed the Bush administration's explanation of why the AP videos do not contradict Bush's claim about not anticipating a breach of the levees, it omitted key facts that undermine the administration's explanation.

On March 1, the Associated Press reported that videos and transcripts of briefings obtained by the AP indicated that "federal disaster officials warned President Bush and his homeland security chief before Hurricane Katrina struck that the storm could breach levees." This evidence appears to prove false Bush's assertion, made days after the storm hit, that "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees." On March 3, the AP issued a clarification to the March 1 article which read, in part: "The story should have made clear that Bush was warned about floodwaters overrunning the levees, rather than the levees breaking." However, the AP's clarification, which echoed the Bush administration's explanation of why the AP videos do not contradict Bush's claim about not anticipating a breach of the levees, ignored key facts that undermine the administration's explanation.

The AP noted in its clarification:

The Army Corps of Engineers considers a breach a hole developing in a levee rather than an overrun. The story should have made clear that Bush was warned about floodwaters overrunning the levees, rather than the levees breaking.

The day before Katrina, Bush was told there were grave concerns the levees could be overrun.

It wasn't until the next morning, as the storm made landfall, that Michael Brown, then head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said Bush had asked about reports of breaches. Bush did not participate in that briefing.

The AP failed to note, however, that in the early morning of August 29, 2005, just before Katrina hit land, the Department of Homeland Security warned the White House that, based on the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) July 2004 "Hurricane Pam" planning exercise, Katrina could cause levees breaching as well as overtopping, as Media Matters for America noted. The fact that the administration concluded from a 2004 exercise that there was a serious threat of levees breaching in the event of a Category 3 hurricane in New Orleans starkly contradicts Bush's assertion two days after Katrina made landfall that "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees." In fact, many people in the administration anticipated the breach of the levees, including, apparently Bush himself. As the AP noted in its clarification, former FEMA head Michael D. Brown said in an August 29, 2005, briefing, even as the hurricane was pounding the Gulf Coast, that Bush asked whether the levees had been breached. But instead of noting that this fact appears to contradict the administration's explanation, the AP instead reported that its March 1 article "should have made clear that Bush was warned about floodwaters overrunning the levees, rather than the levees breaking."

Also, preliminary engineering findings from the National Science Foundation, Louisiana State University, and the American Society of Civil Engineers have stated that erosion from overtopping in fact caused many of the levee breaches.

Fox News' Washington managing editor Brit Hume seized upon the AP's flawed clarification to claim that "we learned next to nothing" from the Katrina briefing videos originally brought to light by the AP, that Bush "received no such warning" about New Orleans' levees breaching, and that the "frenzy" over the videos "ended up turning out to be totally bogus."

From the March 5 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday:

CHRIS WALLACE (host): So, Brit, what, if anything, did we learn this week from these government video conferences about what went wrong on Hurricane Katrina?

HUME: I would say we learned next to nothing. And what the Associated Press, which got all of this started, said we learned turned out not to be true, as the AP in itself finally acknowledged on Friday evening in a very grudging three-paragraph, quote, "clarification." Basically, the story line that came out of this video, by the way, of an event -- by the way -- which was open, at least in all relevant portions, open to the press, attended by Fox News and other news organizations -- in fact, when you look at the tape of this supposedly confidential video, you see news cameras in the background in a number of the shots.

Well, there were news cameras there most -- much of the time, and what the AP claimed we learned was that the president had been warned a day ahead of time that the levees stood a good chance of being breached. What, in fact, he was warned was that the levees could be topped, and the briefing on that, by the way, also said that all the models predicted that while this was a possibility, that they were predicting that New Orleans would get very little flooding, relatively speaking. Topping a levee means the water flows over the top. You get some flooding out of that. Breaching a levee means the whole levee gives way and water just comes pouring in, which is what happened in New Orleans.

So, he received no such warning. The AP couldn't tell the difference between topping and breaching. Much of the rest of the media fell for it hook, line, and sinker, forgetting the fact that they -- you know -- it had been covered at the time, and we had, you know, a two or three-day frenzy over something that ended up turning out to be totally bogus.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy
Network/Outlet
Fox News Channel, Associated Press
Person
Brit Hume
Show/Publication
FOX News Sunday
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.