On Page One of the WaPo is the story covered by others the last few days... FEMA is a turkey farm where political appointees who can't hack it anywhere else are sent to be raised, housed and fed. The same topic is the subject of the rival NY Times' editorial page:
The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced this week that it didn't want the news media taking photographs of the dead in New Orleans. A FEMA spokeswoman talked unconvincingly about the dignity of the dead. But the bizarre demand, a creepy echo of the ban on news media coverage of the coffins returning from Iraq, is simply the latest spasm of a gutted federal agency.
Michael Brown was made the director after he was asked to resign from the International Arabian Horse Association, and the other top officials at FEMA don't exactly have impressive résumés in emergency management either. The Chicago Tribune reported on Wednesday that neither the acting deputy director, Patrick Rhode, nor the acting deputy chief of staff, Brooks Altshuler, came to FEMA with any previous experience in disaster management. Ditto for Scott Morris, the third in command until May.
It's not really all that surprising that the officials who run FEMA are stressing that all-important emergency response function: the public relations campaign. As it turns out, that's all they really have experience at doing.
One can't fault the media this time round; Katrina has had the deserved mega-coverage for 10 days and they are not letting Bush and the WH control the story. Each morning, there's more to read about in terms of the incompetent federal response. Each day, McClellan is hammered. Each evening. the story on the news is not the sanitized WH version the spinmeisters are pushing. And as we have said for several dayts now, the body count is still to come, with speculative estimates rising well above the 10,000 suggested by the mayor of NOLA.
[UPDATE]: Nicely summarized by EJ Dionne:
You can tell the White House knows how much trouble it is in -- that's no doubt why Bush had another news conference yesterday -- by following the Frank Theorem. "It's a rule in American politics," said Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), "that whichever side denounces the other for politicizing the issue is losing the argument." Bingo.
The Pew Research Center has just released results of another survey conducted over the last two nights (9/6-7, n=1,000 adults, sampling error 3.5%). The results are remarkably similar to the CBS News poll released this morning that was also conducted Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. Specifically,
- 38% approve of "the way George W. Bush is handling the impact of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans," 52% disapprove. CBS reported a Bush Katrina job rating of 38% approve, 58% disapprove.
- 40% approve of "the way George W. Bush is handling his job as president," while 52% disapprove. This job rating is the lowest Pew has measured in Bush's presidency, representing a 4 point drop from 44% approve, 48% disapprove in July. CBS reported Bush's overall job rating at 41% approve, 51% disapprove.
- 28% agreed that "President Bush did all he could to get relief efforts going quickly," while 67% chose the alternative statement that "he could have done more." On the CBS poll, 32% said the timing of President Bush's response to the Hurricane was "about right," while 65% said it was "too slow" (1% actually said it was "too quick").
Pew always releases plenty of details to chew on, so read the whole thing, especially by party affiliation and by news outlet (same thing, really, these days):
Different Sources, Divergent Views
Previous Pew surveys have shown the Fox News audience to be highly supportive of the president. This remains the case today, with Fox viewers reacting far more favorably to the president's handling of the disaster than those who cite other outlets as their major source of news on the hurricane.
In addition, a plurality of Fox News viewers (42%) say that people who took things from businesses and homes in New Orleans were mostly criminals taking advantage of the situation. The balance of opinion among those who rely on other outlets CNN, network news, newspapers and the internet is that people who stole were mostly ordinary people trying to survive in an emergency.
Given Shepard Smith's excellent coverage of reality, this one's tough to blame on Fox alone. But hey, even a plurality of Fox's audience feel Bush could have done more. The WH can push all they want on this, but they are losing the PR game. And there's nothing the syncophants and courtiers (like the Note) can do about it.