USA Today, AP ignored Democratic critics in coverage of Bush's visit to Gulf Coast

››› ››› JOSH KALVEN

USA Today and the Associated Press reported that Bush had "highlight[ed] rebuilding efforts" following Hurricane Katrina and "praised the region's rebirth," but neither outlet noted any criticism of the Bush administration's handling of the reconstruction process, despite two reports by congressional Democrats in the past week detailing the "failed Republican response."

In their August 29 coverage of President Bush's trip to the Gulf Coast on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, USA Today noted that Bush had "praised the region's rebirth" and the Associated Press reported that he had "highlight[ed] rebuilding efforts." But neither outlet noted any Democratic criticism of the Bush administration's handling of the reconstruction process, despite two reports by congressional Democrats in the past week detailing what they characterized as the "failed Republican response" in the year since Katrina hit.

Further, an August 29 article by New York Times reporter Anne E. Kornblut reported that "[b]oth the White House and Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill issued 'fact sheets' with competing assertions about the rate of progress," but did not lay out the specific claims, much less provide any analysis of their merit.

On August 28, both the president and first lady Laura Bush visited the western coast of Mississippi as part of a two-day trip to the Gulf Coast region to commemorate the first anniversary of Katrina. In an August 29 article -- headlined "President hails 'sense of renewal' in Mississippi" -- USA Today staff writer David Jackson reported on Bush's optimistic remarks during his tour:

A year ago, President Bush visited this area ravaged by Hurricane Katrina and saw piles of rubble strewn over beaches and neighborhoods. He met with people who lost everything.

On a return visit Monday, he said 98% of the debris is gone, the beaches are pristine, and the Biloxi-Gulfport area is slowly rebuilding. He praised the region's rebirth and the resolve of its residents to restore their lives.

"It's a sense of renewal here. It may be hard for those of you who have endured the last year to really have that sense of change, but for a fellow who was here and now a year later comes back, things are changing," Bush said in the first part of a two-day swing to mark today's anniversary of Katrina.

[...]

In listing his post-Katrina efforts, Bush cited new plans for government responses to disasters. He also promoted $110 billion in federal aid, including programs for tax incentives, small-business loans and education assistance.

"Some of the hardest work is still ahead. ... We'll ensure federal money reaches the individuals who need it to build their homes. And we'll stand by you as long as it takes to get the job done," he said.

Jackson did not quote a single Democrat or anyone else to provide a contrary assessment of the White House's rebuilding efforts beyond that of a resident who criticized Bush generally, saying he "could have done better than he did."

In her August 29 article on Bush's trip, AP staff writer Deb Riechmann also reported Bush's comments regarding the ongoing reconstruction, as well as those of the first lady:

The church stands in Jackson Square, in the heart of the French Quarter, where Bush last year acknowledged that his administration had failed to respond adequately to the hurricane. The White House is hoping that if the Gulf Coast shows signs of renewal, that mark on Bush's presidency will be erased.

"Money is beginning to go out the door so people can rebuild their lives," Bush said Monday in Biloxi, Miss. "In Louisiana, it's been a little slower."

As he did in Biloxi, Bush was not visiting here to dwell on the disaster, but highlight rebuilding efforts.

"My message to the people down here is that we understand there's more work to be done, and just because a year has passed, the federal government will remember the people," Bush said in Biloxi. "This is an anniversary, but it doesn't mean it ends. It's the beginning of what is going to be a long recovery, but I'm amazed by the opportunity. I'm amazed by the hope that I feel down here."

First lady Laura Bush said "it takes more than just money."

"It really takes the efforts of everyone who lived here, who wants to come back, of all public officials, local, state and federal, of other neighbors, other people can figure out a way to help," she said on ABC's "Good Morning America." Tuesday.

"Was the federal government slow? Sure, probably. Was every government slow, state and local? Sure. But have they responded in a very, very helpful way? I think they have."

Elsewhere in the article, Riechmann cited a recent AP/Ipsos poll that found "67 percent of Americans disapprove of Bush's handling of the Katrina disaster." Further, she described in detail the reality on the ground in New Orleans:

Only 50 percent of New Orleans has electricity. Half its hospitals remain closed. Violent crime is up. Less than half the population has returned. Tens of thousands of families still live in trailers and mobile homes with no real timetable for moving to more permanent housing. Insurance settlements are mired in red tape. The city still has no master rebuilding plan. And while much debris has been cleared, some remains as if the clock stopped when the storm struck.

Nonetheless, Riechmann failed to quote a single Democrat, despite the fact that, in recent days, party leaders have emphatically criticized the White House's handling of the rebuilding process and the lack of progress detailed above. Indeed, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (NV) and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA) released a report on August 23 assailing the Bush administration's performance in the year since Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast:

In the aftermath of the disaster, President Bush and congressional Republicans made many promises to the desperate residents of the region, but most have been broken. Largely as a result, much of the Gulf Coast remains devastated, and residents continue to suffer from inadequate housing, health care and other basic services, and an infrastructure that cannot support badly needed economic development. The Administration has also failed to apply the lessons we've learned to their future disaster planning, leaving the country unprepared for another major disaster. Further compounding matters, the Federal government's response has been fraught with breathtaking levels of waste, fraud, and abuse, the likes of which are unprecedented in our nation's history.

On August 28, the Democratic office of the House Homeland Security Committee released its own report, titled "One Year Later: Katrina's Waste." The 24-page document makes the argument that the Bush administration's neglect of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) ultimately led to "contracting failures both before and after the storm." The report notes that FEMA was found to be suffering from a severe staffing shortage at the time of the Katrina disaster and details the consequences:

[W]hen Katrina struck, FEMA did not have in place contracts necessary to respond to a large-scale catastrophe and had no "surge" capacity. FEMA's beleaguered procurement employees worked around the clock but were immediately overwhelmed. The result of FEMA's lack of preparation and staffing shortage was, not surprisingly, a significant waste of taxpayers' money.

In an August 28 statement, committee member Bob Etheridge (D-NC) said of the House report, "This is not only about saving taxpayers money, it's about ensuring that FEMA gets the job done. A year after Hurricane Katrina hit, the damage is still not cleaned up in the Gulf Coast, and these contracting processes are partly to blame." Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), the ranking member on the committee, added: "Billions of American tax dollars and donations were wasted. Worse yet, the small businesses in or near communities hard hit by the storm were never afforded the opportunity to rebuild their own communities."

By contrast to USA Today and AP, several other print outlets detailed the Democrats' criticism of the rebuilding efforts in their August 29 articles on Bush's trip to the region. For instance, Los Angeles Times staff writer James Gerstenzang noted the report released by House Democrats and -- unlike Kornblut -- provided readers with some sense of its findings:

Numerous critical reports from Congress and interest groups have challenged the president's assessments, and Democrats on the House Homeland Security Committee issued another on Monday.

"Americans know that the Bush administration has fallen well short of expectations nearly a year after Hurricane Katrina hit," said Rep. Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, a senior Democrat on the committee, "and this report shows that they have not rebuilt enough homes, stimulated the economy, buried some of the dead, cut back on wasteful spending, or even cleaned up the mess."

Meanwhile, an August 29 article by Washington Post staff writer Michael Abramowitz quoted Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) commenting on the lack of progress:

In an interview, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said the reconstruction of the Gulf Coast is going "not very well," and asserted that federal agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Small Business Administration are botching the delivery of federal funds to individuals and small enterprises. "Yes, the recovery is underway," she said. "It is still painfully slow. We have unnecessarily lost so much because the system is overburdened."

Landrieu has been joined by Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) for parts of what she has termed a "Hope and Recovery" tour for the region.

Another prominent Democrat, Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), inspected damaged sections of New Orleans along with other lawmakers on Monday, and predicted that Americans will be "very surprised to know this recovery is way, way behind what their expectations would have been."

Abramowitz further reported that Bush's visit had been "carefully scripted by the White House" to leave "little possibility of the president encountering much anger over the federal reconstruction efforts."

Posted In
Environment & Science, Government
Network/Outlet
USA Today, Associated Press
Stories/Interests
Hurricane Katrina, Natural Disasters
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