A New Low for the MSM?

The mainstream media’s handling of Hurricane Katrina and the disasters in New Orleans is a disgrace, possibly the worst instance yet of media bias. Insane claims by left-wing nuts that President Bush botched the recovery effort on purpose so as to kill black people are repeated by the MSM in a chin-stroking mode, as if to say, “It’s an interesting question–they might be on to something.” Meanwhile, no one points out that it was President Bush who implored Governor Blanco to issue a first-ever mandatory evacuation order for the city, an action by the President that probably saved tens of thousands of lives.
Similarly, the media yammmer on and on about the allegedly slow federal response to the hurricane, without noting that the Governor of Louisiana has the power to call out the National Guard. Accusations that lawlessness and looting in New Orleans are somehow the federal government’s fault are repeated endlessly; hardly anyone bothers to criticize the looters and other criminals themselves. And where is the outrage that should be directed toward the New Orleans Police Department? They were the authorities on the scene, and they, under the direction of the city’s Mayor–who had an emergency plan in place, but apparently made no attempt to implement it–had the responsibility to maintain law and order. Yet some policemen reportedly joined in the looting, while a great many others turned tail and abandoned their responsibilities.
But it’s hard to defend the administration when the administration won’t defend itself. Yesterday Homeland Security head Michael Chertoff declared that the feds are now in control of New Orleans, but refused to defend the government’s performance so far:

Chertoff defended the job of FEMA Director Michael Brown and declined to get into a discussion about whether the government moved quickly and forcefully enough to deal with the catastrophe. He shrugged off suggestions that the demand for National Guard troops in Iraq had depleted the numbers available to respond to the crisis.
“I think when we go back and look at it lot of things worked well and some things didn’t work well,” he said.

That simply isn’t good enough. I understand the administration’s problem: it’s hard to mount a defense without pointing out the scandalous performance of the state and local authorities who were responsible for emergency preparation and for the initial response to the hurricane. But if the administration thinks it can ride out the current news cycle as it has passively ridden out so many news cycles in the past, it’s crazy. As Chertoff himself said yesterday:

We need to prepare the country for what’s coming … we are going to uncover people who died hiding in the houses, maybe got caught in floods, it is going to be as ugly a scene as you can imagine.

Yes, that’s right. And each new horror, and each painful step in the reconstruction of New Orleans over the years to come, will be the occasion for more Bush-bashing. This story is never going to die a natural death, and it is probably too late already for the administration to combat the media-driven impression that the disaster is somehow its fault.
I’ve often criticized the administration for not responding forcefully enough to unfair attacks by the far left and the media–often, for not responding at all. But this time the administration’s habit of quietly riding out the storm could have incalculable costs.
I’m parting company here with two people whose judgment I respect. Michelle Malkin has recommended that President Bush fire FEMA head Michael Brown. Brown is, apparently, a political appointee with few qualifications for the job beyond general competence and management skill. This is hardly unusual in Washington; the conventional assumption is that staff who report to the head of an agency furnish the necessary expertise. As seems to have happened; FEMA’s response to hurricanes last year was widely praised. In any event, whatever the wisdom of Brown’s appointment in hindsight, firing him now would be an admission that FEMA performed poorly in the current crisis–an assertion that is constantly repeated, but for which I have seen, at this point, little hard evidence. There will be time enough for sorting out, in a rational environment, the pros and cons of FEMA’s efforts; firing Brown now would accomplish nothing but to uselessly fan the flames of hysteria.
Hugh Hewitt, meanwhile, has advised conservatives to “turn the other cheek” in reaction to unfair criticism from the left. Among other reasons, he believes that the American people will react negatively to the left’s maniacal, over-the-top attacks. Hugh thinks the current vile assault on the administration could be another Wellstone funeral moment. I think he’s wrong; the MSM, in full support-the-Democrats mode, is daily making respectable even the wackiest attacks on the administration. Of course, I’m not by nature a cheek-turning sort, but I think that has too often been the administration’s approach. This time, it could be fatal.
Meanwhile, the insanity continues. The Democrats know that in order to defend itself against their onslaught, the administration will have to criticize the people who really bungled the job–the Governor of Louisiana, the Mayor of New Orleans, and other local officials. So, earlier this morning Senator Mary Landrieu threatened President Bush with violence if he does any such thing:

Louisiana Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu threatened President Bush with physical violence this morning on ABC’s Sunday morning news program “This Week”.
“If one person criticizes our sheriffs, or says one more thing, including the President of the United States, he will hear from me – one more word about it after this show airs and I – I might likely have to punch him – literally,” says Landrieu.

For the first time, the Democrats and their allies in the MSM (to the extent one draws the distinction) believe that they have the administration on the run, in a way that could destroy President Bush. Destroying the President is the goal they have pursued passionately since January 2001. In that regard, nothing has changed in 4 1/2 years. The administration, it seems to me, has two choices: defend itself, or suffer crippling damage from which it likely will never recover.

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