Just Above Sunset
September 4, 2005 - Disconnects Noted and Now Open for Discussion

Home | Question Time | Something Is Up | Connecting Dots | Stay Away | Overload | Our Man in Paris | WLJ Weekly | Book Wrangler | Cobras | The Edge of the Pacific | The Surreal Beach | On Location | Botanicals | Quotes

• The American Red Cross was and still is banned from entering New Orleans - a collection of the reasoning involved - bit of "too dangerous" and a lot of "helping these people on site would make them less likely to want to leave" - statements from officials. The deaths that resulted from this decision are not discussed.

• From the weekend wrap-up on the Washington Post, a snippet on FEMA here:


As reports continued of famished and dehydrated people isolated across the Gulf Coast, angry questions were pressed about why the military has not been dropping food packets for them - as was done in Afghanistan, Bosnia and in the aftermath of the Asian tsunami.

Bill Wattenburg, a consultant for the University of California Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and one of the designers of the earlier food drop programs, said that he has lobbied the administration and the military to immediately begin something similar. He said he was told that the military was prepared to begin, but that it was awaiting a request from FEMA.


Never happened.  Elsewhere in these pages on the head of FEMA, Michael Brown, who, prior to joining FEMA was as an assistant city manager, Laura Rosen being angry:


My lord, the guy heading FEMA has no qualifications. What was he doing before getting pulled into FEMA by the Bush administration in 2003? He was an estate planning lawyer in Colorado and of counsel for the International Arabian Horse Association Legal Department. And yes, it is the same Michael D. Brown.


Her item has internal links to the facts, and now this additional information - the International Arabian Horse Association Legal Department asked Brown to resign, or be fired, and earlier in the year there were calls for him to resign as head of FEMA, because FEMA seems to have inappropriately distributed thirty million dollars in disaster relief funds to people in the Miami area even though they were not affected by Hurricane Frances, which made landfall more than one hundred miles away - the link has more detail. He takes care of his friends. Also see this from the New Orleans Times-Picayune September 2nd - current issues with breaking agreements.

• From the Associated Press, Saturday, September 3, this:


WASHINGTON - Several states ready and willing to send National Guard troops to the rescue in hurricane-ravaged New Orleans didn't get the go-ahead until days after the storm struck - a delay nearly certain to be investigated by Congress.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson offered Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco help from his state's National Guard on Sunday, the day before Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana. Blanco accepted, but paperwork needed to get the troops en route didn't come from Washington until late Thursday.


File that under Management 101 of course.

• Under "class and race" issues file this, also from the Associated Press, Saturday, September 3 –


At one point Friday, the evacuation was interrupted briefly when school buses pulled up so some 700 guests and employees from the Hyatt Hotel could move to the head of the evacuation line - much to the amazement of those who had been crammed in the Superdome since last Sunday.

"How does this work? They (are) clean, they are dry, they get out ahead of us?" exclaimed Howard Blue, 22, who tried to get in their line. The National Guard blocked him as other guardsmen helped the well-dressed guests with their luggage.

The 700 had been trapped in the hotel, near the Superdome, but conditions were considerably cleaner, even without running water, than the unsanitary crush inside the dome. The Hyatt was severely damaged by the storm. Every pane of glass on the riverside wall was blown out.


• Noted in the Los Angeles Times, Saturday, September 3 - Met by Despair, Not Violence - byline Scott Gold, subhead "As they begin to patrol the chaotic city, troops are surprised by what they don't find." They were told to expect urban combat to take back the streets, they entered the city "locked and loaded" in full armor, but no enemy - just desperate and dying civilians who wanted help.

• Also noted in the Los Angeles Times, Saturday, September 3 - Reporters Confront Leaders on Government's Response (Scott Collins) "... many reporters shed their stance of neutrality and joined numerous commentators in criticizing local, state and federal officials for their seemingly slow reaction to the calamity."



On Thursday's "Nightline," ABC News' Ted Koppel assailed Federal Emergency Management Agency director Michael D. Brown for his inability to offer an accurate count of refugees at the New Orleans Convention Center: "Don't you guys watch television? Don't you guys listen to the radio? Our reporters have been reporting about it for more than just today."

On CNN, reporter Soledad O'Brien also lit into Brown: "How is it possible that we're getting better intel than you're getting? ... Why no massive airdrop of food and water? In Banda Aceh, in Indonesia, they got food dropped two days after the tsunami struck."

"No one, no one in government is doing a good job in handling one of the most atrocious and embarrassing and far-reaching calamitous things that has come along in this country in my lifetime," said CNN commentator Jack Cafferty. The cable network reported being flooded with e-mails praising Cafferty's diatribe.

Also on CNN, Anderson Cooper had a bristling exchange Thursday evening with Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, who was thanking leaders and praising the emergency aid bill Congress was about to pass.

"Excuse me, Senator, I'm sorry for interrupting. I haven't heard that, because, for the last four days, I've been seeing dead bodies in the streets here in Mississippi," Cooper said. "And to listen to politicians thanking each other and complimenting each other, you know, I got to tell you, there are a lot of people here who are very upset, and very angry, and very frustrated¿. It kind of cuts them the wrong way right now, because literally there was a body on the streets of this town yesterday being eaten by rats."

On MSNBC, host and former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough called the situation in the Gulf Coast region "nothing short of a national disgrace."

Commentators who have proved friendly to Republicans criticized some of the relief efforts, if not the Bush administration directly.

Bill O'Reilly, host of Fox News Channel's highly rated "The O'Reilly Factor," told viewers Thursday: "The country expects the government to control law breaking in the hurricane zone, to provide food and shelter, and to prevent any person or company from exploiting this desperate situation."

News executives defended the tenor of the coverage, saying that reporters witnessing the devastation were best qualified to press government officials about reports that did not correlate to what they were seeing, they said.


That seemed to be happening, and over at Fox News on Friday night this:


I've never seen anything as harrowing as Fox News' Geraldo Rivera and Shepard Smith on Hannity and Colmes. While Aaron Brown on CNN said we have "turned the corner", it's clearly not the truth. There are thousands of people trapped in what Geraldo called "this Hell on earth" at the convention center. No one has been bused out. Shepard was on I-10 and just devastating in his description of the "hundreds and hundreds and hundreds" of people being denied exit and still without food, water, medicine or water.

When a network like Fox can't prevent its reporters from speaking the truth, you have to know the situation is so much worse than we've been told. Geraldo was crying, Shep Smith looked like he wanted to drive a knife thorough Sean Hannity and Alan Colmes. How frustrating for them to watch reality get trumped by spinned photos of supply-laden ships arriving. The reality is that 12 hours after those ships arrived, nothing has changed for those in lock-down at the convention center or exiled on a highway.


Saw it too, and the video is here - the Fox News pro-administration machine breaking down for a moment.

Back to the Times media notes:


Marcy McGinnis, senior vice president of CBS News, said she could not remember another disaster in which there was such a disconnect between what the government said and what reporters saw.

"It is part of our job to question them and to say, 'How can you say that, when we see something else with our own eyes?' " McGinnis said.

... The turning point in the Katrina coverage came Thursday, when authorities stopped evacuating refugees from the squalid Superdome in New Orleans because of reports of shots fired at rescuers, Rosenstiel [Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism in Washington] said. Journalists found it difficult to accept official explanations of why the extensive relief promised by the government had not reached refugees.

"The [Bush] administration threw the head of FEMA out there to the lion's den" to answer reporters' questions, Rosenstiel said.

Indeed, Koppel's grilling of FEMA's Brown proved pivotal to many viewers, who burned up blogs and online discussion with analyses of the exchange.

"Thank God Koppel is there to ask the common sense questions," a poster wrote at Americablog. "Kudos to Koppel for standing up to the White House spin," wrote Matthew Gross on his blog Deride and Conquer.

By midday Friday, the tone of the coverage seemed to be shifting. As troops began delivering food and water and President Bush toured the Gulf Coast region, CNN blared the headline "Help at Last" on its website.

But CNN.com also offered transcripts documenting differences in the official version and the "in-the-trenches version" of events, under the headline: "The big disconnect on New Orleans."


That CNN item is here, and it's in simple bullet points.

The Times also notes the conservative commentators have accused the media of using the disaster as an opportunity to attack Bush, quoting Rush Limbaugh.

As for CNN and Anderson Cooper, who appeared on Bill Mehar's Real Time show on HBO Friday night - and resisted laughing it up as much as Maher tried to loosen things - he seems just angry.


Here is the exchange that happened Thursday, Cooper and Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu.


Cooper introduced Landrieu and immediately asked, "Does the federal government bear responsibility for what is happening now? Should they apologize for what is happening now?" Landrieu told him "there will be plenty of time to discuss those issues," and proceeded to begin thanking various government officials for their disaster relief support.

Finally, Cooper interrupted her:

Senator, I'm sorry... for the last four days, I have been seeing dead bodies here in the streets of Mississippi and to listen to politicians thanking each other and complimenting each other - I have to tell you, there are people here who are very upset and angry, and when they hear politicians thanking one another, it just, you know, it cuts them the wrong way right now, because there was a body on the streets of this town yesterday being eaten by rats because this woman has been laying in the street for 48 hours, and there is not enough facilities to get her up. Do you understand that anger?

LANDRIEU: I have the anger inside of me. Most of the homes in my family have been destroyed. I understand that, and I know all the details, and the President...

COOPER: Well, who are you angry at?

LANDRIEU: I'm not angry at anyone. It is so important for everyone in this nation to pull together, for all military assets to be brought to bear in this situation. I have every confidence this country is great and strong as we can be do to that, and that effort is under way. That effort is under way.

COOPER: Well, I mean, there are a lot of people here who are kind of ashamed of what is happening in this country right now, what is - ashamed of what is happening in your state. And that's not to blame the people that are there, it is a terrible situation, but you know, who - no one seems to be taking responsibility. I know you say there's a time and a place for kind of, you know, looking back, but this seems to be the time and the place. There are people that want answers, and people want someone to stand up and say: we should have done more.


Not the usual behavior of out press? You could say that.

Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta had some things to say. Rick's involvement in the founding of CNN can be found in CNN: The Inside Story, a book from 1990 (Little, Moore) by Hank Whittemore - see the index under Rick Brown –


If you've watched CNN this week, all the on-air CNNers seem to be in high dudgeon - not only the Anderson Cooper case you mention here, nor the normally curmudgeonly (read, "old conservative fart") Jack Cafferty that you mention elsewhere, but also Jeanne Meserve breaking down during a debriefing from Aaron Brown the other night, Soledad O'Brien coming on strong while interviewing someone (whose identity I forget) the other day, and this morning, Miles O'Brien grilling Louisiana's governor on how many troops she requested, and when.

I can't help but think Jonathan Klein, who is on record in favor of personalizing CNN's news coverage, sees this going on, and probably approves. For all I know, he's actually urging them to do it.

I saw Anderson open his show last night with that interview - introducing it by expressing his "outrage," and then seemingly fighting back tears afterward as he moved on to the next piece. I was surprised Landrieu didn't just say, "Miles, I've got too much work to do to sit around and take crap from you," then take off her microphone and walk away. Instead, at the end, she kept thanking him for the work he was doing.

At first, I was annoyed with Cooper's lack of professionalism. Although I've always liked his stuff, I've also felt that he hasn't really racked up enough real journalistic experience to understand this principle of objectivity. For example, I asked myself, shouldn't he - and maybe the rest of us - be at least as dismayed that over a thousand pilgrims died during that panic in Iraq earlier in the week? In fact, from now on, should I fault him every time he does NOT become emotionally involved in a story close to MY heart?

But then, I got over it. First of all, these on-scene reporters are suffering from lack of sleep as they struggle to get from one scene to another, only to constantly confront personal tragedies that they can do little to alleviate - suffering, in fact, from psychological trauma similar to that experienced by the rescue workers, nurses, and other public servants in the area.

But also, maybe one of the problems with disaster coverage in general is that it tends to equalize all these hurricanes into one big amorphous blob of distressed survivors, strolling through piles of broken lumber, vowing to build again. Maybe this one, which is probably closer to San Francisco's 1906 earthquake or the Chicago Fire than to Hurricane Andrew, demands reporters who will shake us by the shoulders and get us to forget everything else we've ever seen, and also to force our government to pay better attention to this than it seems to be doing.

Not that this necessarily will work, of course. Here in Atlanta, even with refugees streaming in who will probably end up as permanent residents for years to come, the major concern of the locals seems to be whether we will run out of gas in our cars during the upcoming holiday weekend, or whether we'll be paying more than $3 a gallon from here on out.


Maybe so, or maybe all these accumulating "disconnects" - now the media openly reports them - will mean some changes for the better in the nation.

The "disconnects" are there. Now they are open for discussion to the general public, not just fodder for bull sessions among the policy wonks.


Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
See the Details page for the relevant citation.

This issue updated and published on...

Paris readers add nine hours....