Rewriting Katrina History – AP Style

Over at Crooks & Liars they have the AP video to go with this AP story, Tape: Bush, Chertoff Warned Before Katrina. The video can be watched directly from the AP site here.

Is it a slow news day? In what parallel universe does video of disaster planning video teleconferences constitute the AP equivalent of the Drudge siren? The parallel universe is the “Bush Controls Nature” section of the Bush Derangement Syndrome universe.

There’s lots of heavy breathing on the left about the AP story, but unfortunately for them it has all the hallmarks of the Bush Air National Guard story on 60 Minutes II by Dan Rather and Mary Mapes. The AP has dressed up mundane video to try and prove that President Bush (and everyone else) knew that the levees in New Orleans were going to breech. The problem is the evidence they present in their story to make that point does nothing of the sort.

Let’s look at the AP story (emphasis mine).

WASHINGTON (AP) – In dramatic and sometimes agonizing terms, federal disaster officials warned President Bush and his homeland security chief before Hurricane Katrina struck that the storm could breach levees, put lives at risk in New Orleans’ Superdome and overwhelm rescuers, according to confidential video footage.

Bush didn’t ask a single question during the final briefing before Katrina struck on Aug. 29, but he assured soon-to-be-battered state officials: “We are fully prepared.”

…Homeland Security officials have said the “fog of war” blinded them early on to the magnitude of the disaster. But the video and transcripts show federal and local officials discussed threats clearly, reviewed long-made plans and understood Katrina would wreak devastation of historic proportions. “I’m sure it will be the top 10 or 15 when all is said and done,” National Hurricane Center’s Max Mayfield warned the day Katrina lashed the Gulf Coast.

…”I don’t think any model can tell you with any confidence right now whether the levees will be topped or not but that is obviously a very, very grave concern,” Mayfield told the briefing.Other officials expressed concerns about the large number of New Orleans residents who had not evacuated.Notice what the expert is NOT talking about? Breached levees. But he’s the person AP relies on in their video report to counter Bush’s statement. How dishonest is that?

Bush declared four days after the storm, “I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees” that gushed deadly flood waters into New Orleans. He later clarified, saying officials believed, wrongly, after the storm passed that the levees had survived. But the transcripts and video show there was plenty of talk about that possibility even before the storm – and Bush was worried too.

If such talk is in the video and transcripts AP has not provided it. The only example of talk about breached levees the cite occurs AFTER the hurricane hit.

I invite you to look through our Katrina archives from the beginning – you can learn a lot about what actually happened and when. Wizbang was in the unique position to have one of our bloggers, Paul – an engineer by trade, who just so happened to live in New Orleans. That provided us with a unique local angle on the story.

On August 27, 2005 Paul noted everything discussed in the briefings seen on the AP video and more. How did he know this? Well for starters the entire New Orleans area had avoided a similar fate in 2004 when it looked like they were headed for a direct hit by a Category 5 hurricane (Ivan, not Andrew as I originally stated). The Katrina being discussed in the AP video is the monster Category 5 version of Katrina that was bearing down directly on New Orleans.

And that’s where the dishonesty in the AP story really lies. Contrary to popular belief New Orleans DID NOT take the brunt of Katrina. The Gulf Coast in Mississippi had that honor. As it veered east of New Orleans the force that Katrina hit the New Orleans area with was the equivalent of a Category 1 (or possibly Category 2) hurricane. On the video those officials are discussing a direct hit of a Category 5 storm, just as Paul was. A Category 5 storm didn’t hit New Orleans…

When the President said, “I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees” he probably should have been more specific for the casual arm-chair quarterbacking of the left. What he should have said was, “I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees in New Orleans from a Category 1 hurricane, since the levees were built to withstand the storm surge from a Category 3 hurricane.”

On August 29, 2005 I noted from U.S. Army Corp of Engineers data that the levees did not top. Less than 24 hours later Paul noted that New Orleans was 80% underwater and was for all intents and purposes destroyed.

What changed in the interim? We all know now that the levees were not topped, they crumbled in many spots (most of which were less than a decade old) were they could not withstand the surge they were designed to contain. As Paul noted November 11, 2005, Katrina did not flood New Orleans. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did.

Absolutely no one in the AP story mentions the possibility that monumental incompetence, generations of corruptions, and shoddy engineering would doom New Orleans even if it did manage to avoid a direct hit…

But that’s exactly what happened…

Update: John Hinderaker at Powerline draws similar conclusions about the dubious quality of the AP story. He does note one of the mysteries of the story:

The AP article is fatally compromised by its factual errors, and adds nothing to our understanding of the issues surrounding Hurricane Katrina. It also raises an important point about the leaks that form the basis for many news stories these days. The AP took what appears to have been a substantial quantity of leaked material, and turned it into a brief against the Bush administration. Whether the documents themselves contain anything noteworthy, and whether, on balance, they support the AP’s tendentious interpretation, is impossible to tell.

If you watch the video it’s pretty obvious who the AP’s source is – just look for the person who turns up smelling like a rose. Brownie you’re doing a heck of an image rehabilitation job…

Update 2: Captain Ed links to partial transcripts of the videos at The New York Times. He notes that the word “breach” is mentioned exactly one time in the two video conferences, and it’s use is not if the form of a warning. Here’s what Ed says,

“That certainly doesn’t sound like a warning — and this was on the day the levees broke. That transcript clearly shows that the conference considered the storm surge and precipitation runoff to be the major threats of flooding in New Orleans. The possibility of breaches, even on the 29th, had been discounted.

So that you can search through the transcripts I’ve run the PDF’s through OCR and republished them (Aug 28 and Aug 29) in a searchable PDF form.

Update 3: You’re never going to guess where (it appears) one of the AP story authors used to work. Does Rathergate ring a bell?

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