Thursday, September 08, 2005

The Gathering Storm

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, some politicians and much of the media continue to vigorously criticize their favorite political enemies, while real American heroes attend to the exhausting and dangerous work of trying to save and succor victims. Democrats are attacking Republicans, and Republicans are attacking Democrats. Who was at fault seems to be based entirely on what side of the political spectrum the critic sits on. It's disgusting.

There will be all kinds of commissions and committees investigating this for years. Politicians and activists of all stripes are already trying to form them, even before all the corpses have been collected. Anywhere there's a TV camera, you see some leading political figure elbowing his or her way to the front, expressing outrage at whomever and demanding an investigation. Often, the face you see on TV spreading condemnation has neither the responsibility nor, in most cases, the talent to actually do anything. As I said, it's disgusting.

I propose a People's Commission, to be formed not less than 90 days after the last body has been recovered. Just normal people. No politicians, no presidential hopefuls, no extremist activists, no Jesse Jacksons, no Pat Robertsons, no ideologues of any kind. Just folks, with subpoena power and free rein to investigate anyone and everything.

I know it ain't possible, but it sure feels right. And I believe one of the major findings of a People's Commission would be that most of the media performed abysmally. Through gross misrepresentation and bias, intensified by ignorance, much of their reporting has painted the most negative possible picture. As a result, they've seriously misled the American people and further damaged the image of the U.S. abroad.

Jon Ham wrote an article on August 6 that captured this reality. It's worth reading in full, no matter what opinion you may have already formed. Ham said,

There is a fetid stink in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and it’s not coming just from the fouled waters flooding New Orleans. It also wafts from the putrid reporting of the disaster by the mainstream media.

From the moment Katrina made landfall the media focused on anything that could redound to the detriment of President Bush or inflame race and class tensions. Reporters and commentators ignored the dismal performance of New Orleans’ Democratic mayor and Louisiana’s Democratic governor, blaming every problem that arose on the Bush administration.

Racial demagogues accused Bush and his administration of reacting slowly because most of the victims were black. Environmental activists said Bush’s refusal to sign the Kyoto Treaty caused Katrina’s severity. Democratic operatives said the administration’s decision to cut funding for a long-term study of flood control caused the levees to breach.

All of this is stuff and nonsense. The tragedy is that the media know it too, but they still printed it.

I think most reasonable people understand the broad outlines of the truth. A just-released CNN/Gallup poll showed that 13 percent of Americans think President Bush is at fault in the way the disaster has been handled, 18 percent think it was other federal officials, 25 percent fault state and local officials, and 38 percent believe that officials at all levels are doing their best to cope with an unprecedented natural disaster. Furthermore, 63 percent do not believe that any federal official responsible for emergencies should be fired.

The poll also showed that the constant drumbeat of criticism directed at the President from the media and some Democratic politicians has had the intended result. Forty-two percent considered the President's performance in the disaster to be bad or terrible, and 35 percent thought it was good or great. This, before the facts are known, based on little more than media reporting and attacks from Democrats.

After the investigations, it will be clear that many reporters and editors performed in a grossly irresponsible and unprofessional manner. As Ham said,

Polls show that, unlike the media, the public does not blame Bush for the hurricane, the rioting, the looting, the stranded pets, the drowning deaths or the levee breaks. That means that the public doesn’t believe what the media are reporting. That’s the real gathering storm.


Blogger Lone Ranger said...

There is a difference. I have not seen a single "attack" by republicans on democrats that was not valid. But the attacks by democrats on republicans are from outer space. The governor of Louisiana and the mayor of New Orleans DID hesitate to take action until it was too late. George Bush does NOT want to see blacks dead. It is possible to be balanced without accepting the claims of both sides at face value.

10:19 AM, September 08, 2005  
Blogger Gindy said...

How do you make improvements to a system if you can't get politics out of the investigation? It is going to get ugly.

11:02 AM, September 08, 2005  
Blogger Jeff said...

Ironically, I posted a very similar piece on my blog, especially the part about how partisanship is so damaging in the midst of this tragedy. And a also agree with gindy. As long as politics trumps truth, finding and fixing the problems will not happen.

1:33 PM, September 08, 2005  
Blogger Tom Carter said...

Jeff's post is nicely done. I recommend reading it.

3:50 PM, September 08, 2005  
Anonymous kevin said...

I'm curious, Tom... Did you have a problem with the post-9/11 polls showing absolutely stellar approval ratings for Bush's handling even though the facts certainly weren't anything close to fully known at that point either?

5:37 PM, September 08, 2005  
Blogger Tom Carter said...

Kevin, I see you're still having this apples-and-oranges problem.

In the aftermath of 911, by all reasonable indications leaders like Giuliani, Pataki, and Bush seemed to be doing as much as anyone reasonably could. Aside from a few liberal ideologues, no one was spewing invective at the President over failed communications in NYC, slow response from air defense aircraft, and all the other problems that were fully defined later on.

In the Hurricane Katrina disaster, which is much bigger and far more difficult to deal with than 911 was, it appears that Nagin, Blanco, and Bush are doing as much as they reasonably can. Of course things haven't gone perfectly, and they never will under these kinds of circumstances. Anyone who has ever actually been responsible for a large organization operating under intense stress knows that. This obviously excludes almost all journalists, most members of Congress, and critics who sit on the sidelines and viciously criticize their favorite political enemies before they even know the facts.

The apple is 911, where the country united behind its leaders and, except for a few fruitcakes, were willing to give them the benefit of the doubt until all the facts were in.

The orange is Hurricane Katrina, where leftist critics of the President, including much of the media, are going berserk and pretty much making fools out of themselves. I think we'll see this even more clearly in the fullness of time. However, I doubt that the guilty parties will have enough class to be embarrassed.

Apples and oranges, Kevin, apples and oranges.

5:57 PM, September 08, 2005  
Anonymous Kevin said...

Tom, you didn't answer my question.

7:57 PM, September 08, 2005  
Anonymous Kevin said...

I pondered this post and the comment thread during my hour-long commute home today.

Here's the thing that I kept coming back to in my mind. In the months and years after 9/11 we saw the Republicans brazenly try to coopt the response to 9/11 as if it had all been their doing. During 2002 and 2004 elections the American people were hammered over and over and over with the twin messages of, a.) we've kept you safe and, b.) electing Democrats will make you less safe.

So along comes Katrina and we weren't safe. Watching the disaster relief effort the first couple of days was like watching the Keystone Cops except that it wasn't the least bit funny. I think that a LOT of people are genuinely pissed off about it because most of the things that applied to dealing with the aftermath of Katrina would apply equally to dealing with the aftermath of another domestic terror attack. And it's not just a Leftist thing as Tom tries to paint it. Many conservatives like Newt Gingrich and Trent Lott have made the same connection in very public ways.

9:47 PM, September 08, 2005  
Blogger Tom Carter said...

Kevin, I did answer your question. I had no problem with people supporting our leaders right after 911 because it was the right thing to do. I have a big problem now with people attacking our leaders, Bush or others, before anyone knows the facts.

I've seen Republicans accused of trying to use 911 for partisan political purposes. I'm not sure that's completely true, or at least that they've been any more prone to do it than Democrats.

Republicans have claimed that they've kept the country safe since 911 because there hasn't been another major terrorist attack. That's true enough, I guess, but its dangerous to harp on it because there will likely be another one. The hurricane was a natural disaster that couldn't have been prevented. Apples and oranges. I agree, as I've said repeatedly, that the response seems to have been inadequate. Later, when the time is right, I'll support reasonable efforts to find out who, if anyone, was at fault, if only as a means of fixing problems before the next disaster.

The current blame game is, in fact, characterized by the left using the disaster as an opportunity to attack the President. That's shameful.

12:59 AM, September 09, 2005  
Anonymous Kevin said...

So what you're saying, Tom, is that you don't mind people supporting the president out of ignorance, but that criticizing the president out of ignorance is bad.

That's an interesting way to parse out ignorance... Especially given how polling just last year showed a disturbing level of gross ignorance among likely Bush voters which was not mirrored in likely Kerry voters.

As for GOPers and 9/11... you must not have followed the RNC convention in New York, or Karl Rove's remarks to the NY Conservative Party earlier this year, or how the GOP used pictures of Bush on 9/11 for fundraising, or the myriad Congressional races where GOPers openly insinuated the Dems were too soft to defend America... including against one rather well known Senator who is also a Vietnam Vet who lost both legs and one arm in service to his country.

Where are the Dem equivelents? Please show me.

1:50 PM, September 09, 2005  

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