Katrina: many implicated, but what's the real issue?
Katrina is back on the agenda.
The six-month anniversary of Katrina -- and the spectacle of Mardi Gras being celebrated in the still-devastated city of New Orleans -- has finally re-focused the media spotlight on what should be a top national issue: the fact that an entire region of the country, and hundreds of thousands of people, are still suffering from the storms of 2005.
So who's looking good, and who's looking bad after the dust settles from a week of revived media scrutiny? Here's who doesn't look good:
THE WHITE HOUSE:The videotape unearthed by AP reporters showing Bush silently nodding while learning Katrina was "the big one" and that levees could be breached is damning, especially since Bush spent the following days clearing brush and going to fundraisers. The CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll yesterday showed his approval rating down to 37%.
GOV. BLANCO:But there was another AP video, this one implicating Louisiana Gov. Blanco for giving misinformation on the status of NOLA's levees:
"We keep getting reports in some places that maybe water is coming over the levees," Kathleen Blanco said shortly after noon on August 29 last year, according to the video, obtained by The Associated Press. "We heard a report, unconfirmed, I think, we have not breached the levee. I think we have not breached the levee at this time."
Blanco gave that dispatch, although the White House already had this information on hand:
The National Weather Service had received a report of a levee breach and issued a flash-flood warning as early as 9.12am that day, according to the White House's formal account of events the day Katrina struck.
MATTHEW BRODERICK:The head of DHS's Homeland Security Operations Center became the second political casualty of Katrina will leave March 31 "for personal reasons," but his role in the failed relief effort provides the real reason:
As head of the Homeland Security Operations Center, [Broderick] acknowledged to Senate investigators last month that he went home the night of Aug. 29 aware of conflicting reports of levee failures, but did not grasp the severity until the next morning at 6, and notified Robert B. Stephan, an assistant secretary, at 11:30 a.m.
But where does all this finger-pointing lead? At first glance, it appears to support the White House "fog of disaster" argument, that widespread confusion is to blame, and the recovery couldn't have been better under the circumstances.
I don't buy this argument. Federal agencies and the White House were the only players in this drama with access to all the information at hand -- "conflicting" or not -- and, with the right leadership, could have taken steps to find out what was really happening.
The exact moment that the levees were breached isn't the issue, either. The point is that key leaders knew early that it was likely to happen, given the magnitude of the storm. Even Michael Brown understands:
"In emergency management, you prepare for the worst," Brown said on CBS' "The Early Show." "So, whether there had been a breach or a topping of the levees, we still need to be getting rescue people in there immediately."
Federal leadership was, and still is, the issue.