By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Assignment desk

The first order of business for the media today should be to check out the shocking claims of Aaron Broussard, the president of Jefferson Parish. Broussard became the face of the disaster on Sunday. In an emotional appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” he said the mother of a local emergency-management official drowned at her nursing home despite repeated assurances that help was on the way.

But if you only saw the clips, you might have missed something even more important. Broussard told host Tim Russert:

BROUSSARD: We had Wal-Mart deliver three trucks of water, trailer trucks of water. FEMA turned them back. They said we didn’t need them. This was a week ago. FEMA – we had 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel on a Coast Guard vessel docked in my parish. The Coast Guard said, “Come get the fuel right away.” When we got there with our trucks, they got a word. “FEMA says don’t give you the fuel.” Yesterday – yesterday – FEMA comes in and cuts all of our emergency communication lines. They cut them without notice. Our sheriff, Harry Lee, goes back in, he reconnects the line. He posts armed guards on our line and says, “No one is getting near these lines.” Sheriff Harry Lee said that if America – American government would have responded like Wal-Mart has responded, we wouldn’t be in this crisis.

These claims are so mind-boggling that I find them hard to believe, even after a week of grotesque incompetence on the part of FEMA and other federal agencies. But Broussard’s charges shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand, either. Let’s find out if they’re true or not. Certainly the Bush administration has forfeited any benefit of the doubt. (Speaking of which, Josh Marshall is following how an apparent White House attempt to smear Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco has unraveled.)

And by the way, add Russert to the list of journalists who’ve been laudably aggressive in their questioning of government officials – a development I took note of last Friday in the case of NPR’s Robert Siegel, and that Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post and Alessandra Stanley and David Carr of the New York Times write about today.

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  1. Jon

    Arianna H. seems to disagree with you about Russert:

  2. Dan Kennedy

    And, of course, Arianna’s point doesn’t hold up unless she completely omits Russert’s tough interview with Chertoff. She doesn’t disagree with me so much as she sets up a straw man and knocks him down.

  3. Sven

    Apparently the Red Cross wasn’t allowed in.

  4. Anonymous

    Well, but. Cutting the phone lines I can’t figure out at all; that seems grotesque. But the other two issues (water, fuel) might be excusable, or even predictable. FEMA (or anybody that comes in to try to play a centralized role) will be trying to allocate resources according to some set of priorities (one can question how well they did this, but in general, that’s part of their job). You can imagine local and state people who have connections (e.g. with the local WalMart, or someone they know in the Coast Guard) trying (perhaps desperately) to make arrangements to help their people. These efforts can be at odds with the centralized efforts (of FEMA, in this case). Giving FEMA the benefit of the doubt here, they may have concluded that somebody else needed the diesel fuel more and similarly for the water (Broussard cites FEMA as saying “you don’t need them”, but maybe what they said was “you don’t need them as much as these other guys over there”). The centralized group will be trying to balance resources across a broader set of problems than individual local (or even state) officials, and you might even expect that they will have disagreements like this. Of course, given FEMA’s track record, I may be giving them too much credit.

  5. Steve

    About Broussard’s charges I will make the following predictions:1. The main stream media won’t TOUCH the story.2. Any outlet that does try to follow up the charges will be attacked by the right as knee-jerk Bush critics.I have heard nothing about Broussard’s charges in the TV and radio news today. Yes, it’s a vacation day, but given the shocking nature of some of the accusations, I’d want SOMEONE to be following up. But I hear nothing but silence.

  6. Anonymous

    Truth is going to be a casualty in war,and probably in a dreadful mess like this one in Gulf Coast, too. Did I buy Broussard’s story of a drowning, after a 4 day call for help? Let’s just say other factors may have been involved,but I don’t think he’d intentionally lie like the White House did, to the WPost.

  7. truth

    The thing that makes his story believable is that there are so many stories like this. Despite his disheveled appearance, Broussard’s not some hillbilly. He’s the President of Jefferson Parish. He’s been involved in planning for hurricane response for years. He thought he had a partner in the federal government.He’s as shocked as the lawyer interviewed by today: Lethal chaos: Professor describes scene at New Orleans hospital. The lawyer was helping out his wife the doctor and witnessed helicopters flying over their HOSPITAL for days as they waved for help. The helicopters never came, and they ended up ferrying out the patients on a private boat.This is the largest natural disaster in the history of this country, and the worst response to a disaster ever. BushCo have caused untold loss of life. This woman’s death should be the first Article of Impeachment of George W. Bush. It should be noted that she died on Friday night. Friday was the first day of George W. Bush’s “Operation Photo Op”, during which he staged levee repair, built and tore down fake aid stations, suspended helicopter rescues in New Orleans for 8 hours, and left planeloads of food sitting on airport tarmacs for hours.

  8. Lis Riba

    I’ve seen too many comments elsewhere about FEMA turning away volunteers and necessary goods to find Broussard’s story at all implausible. And too many reliable people turned away from too many media outlets for this to remain buried (1000 Florida airboaters with 500 boats offering search and rescue, Houston firefighters with expertise in oil infrastructure, the City of Chicago, the Red Cross…)This DailyKos diary is one of many litanies of FEMA malfeasance I’ve seen on the web this weekend.The sad thing is how this is sowing further distrust in the federal government. FEMA used to be a good agency before the Bush Administration made it part of DHS and turned the leadership positions over to patronage.But instead of seeing this as a reason to rebuild the agency, it’s almost leading to libertarian-like rejection of the government’s role.

  9. Lis Riba

    Secrets & lies?Just saw this from Reuters:NEW ORLEANS, Sept 6 (Reuters) – The U.S. government agency leading the rescue efforts after Hurricane Katrina said on Tuesday it does not want the news media to take photographs of the dead as they are recovered from the flooded New Orleans area.The Federal Emergency Management Agency, heavily criticized for its slow response to the devastation caused by the hurricane, rejected requests from journalists to accompany rescue boats as they went out to search for storm victims….”We have requested that no photographs of the deceased be made by the media,” the spokeswoman said in an e-mailed response to a Reuters inquiry.Belated attempts at damage control? Do you think photojournalists will follow these rules? Given the images out already, do you think it will work?

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