Rumsfeld Continues To Blame Newspapers

Over the past week, Secretary Chertoff and Gen. Richard Myers have used the talking point that the Bush administration’s slow response to Katrina was justified because they had read headlines in the paper shortly after the hurricane had passed that said “New Orleans Dodged a Bullet.”

But ThinkProgress and other blogs called the administration out for citing a headline that didn’t exist. So staffers in the administration desparately scrounged around for real headlines to make their case, and they found three. In an interview with the Sean Hannity radio show yesterday, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld rationalized the Bush administration’s incompetence by arguing that headlines from these newspapers had misled them:

It’s interesting, however; I was told this morning that on Tuesday, August 30th, some of the headlines in the press of the United States said “New Orleans Spared From Storm’s Fury;” “New Orleans Spared Straight Shot;” “New Orleans Escaping Feared Knockout Punch.” So all the press was reporting — and of course, if you remember, New Orleans did escape the terrible wind damage that hit — and the wave damage that hit Mississippi. What New Orleans’ problem was, was that the levees did not withstand the flooding, and the city of New Orleans was flooded.

Had Rumsfeld and others bothered to read the full text of the three articles they found with favorable headlines, they would have realized that federal government help was needed immediately.

Headline: New Orleans Spared Straight Shot, but Still Dealing with Floods, Damage

[T]he storm’s strong winds and rains have still flooded many neighborhoods and ripped part of the roof off the Superdome”¦ Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco says she’s gotten reports of as many as 20 buildings collapsing. Some residents have had to be rescued by boats after climbing onto the rooftops of their homes to escape surging water.

Headline: Escaping Feared Knockout Punch, Barely, New Orleans Is One Lucky Big Mess (originally in NYT with this headline; reprinted in the OC Weekly here with different headline)

During the storm, scores of desperate calls for help poured into the emergency operations center in a vault-like section of City Hall. They were recorded with mechanical self-control by operators who usually handle 911 lines.

“Residence has collapsed,” one operator said as she passed the information to supervisors shortly after 7 a.m. “Flooding inside.” “Female unable to breathe; she is oxygen-dependent,” she reported a few minutes later. “House on fire,” the woman said, after her next call. “Another fire,” she said, moments later. “Two males on a roof, water rising.” “Water up to windows,” she reported after another call. “People screaming that I’m drowning.” “Elderly couple in a building,” the woman reported. “Roof came off.” So it went throughout the day, but all the authorities could do was note the location and urge people to hang on. “We couldn’t send our officers out in the storm,” Matthews said later. “We couldn’t put them at risk.”

Headline: New Orleans spared from storm’s full fury

At least 53 deaths were reported, 50 of them in one county. The fire chief in Gulfport called it “complete devastation.”

Huge oak branches on Mobile’s waterfront were toppled, and an oil-drilling platform broke apart.