George W. Bush: Hurricane Katrina: Public Relations

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Practically since the moment that Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast of the United States on August 29, 2005, public relations for President George W. Bush has presented a constant challenge.

Gary Trudeau encapsulates the situation beautifully in his 20 Sept. Doonesbury strip.

"But let the Democrats hold their rejoicing," Dick Morris wrote, September 7, 2005. "In a year, Katrina and the relief and rebuilding efforts that are about to follow will be seen as having imparted a new and crucial momentum to an administration that was obviously increasingly running out of ideas, out of steam, and — like its nation — out of gas.

"Katrina has the capacity to shape the second Bush term in the same way Sept. 11 shaped his first term — not only in rebuilding New Orleans but in taking preventative steps around the nation to bolster our defenses against natural and manmade disasters and terror strikes. Responding to disasters is a source of presidential strength and popularity, and Bush is about to show how it is done."

Catapulting Katrina: "See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda." --President George Walker Bush, May 24, 2005.

Spin & Damage Control

Spin is Spun
"When Joe Scarborough and ultraconservative Family Research Council head Tony Perkins are on television discussing the government's failed response to the Katrina disaster... when Tucker Carlson is wading through storm waters with a dazed expression but an odd, new fire in his eyes... when Michelle Malkin takes time out from thoroughly out-frothing has-been Ann Coulter in order to call for FEMA head Michael Brown to be fired... I'm sorry, but the administration spin is spun. It's over." --Hunter, Daily Kos, September 8, 2005.

"President Bush continued to try to spin his own inaction [September 13, 2005], but he may finally have reached a patch of reality beyond spin. Now he's the one drowning, unable to rescue himself by patting small black children on the head during photo-ops and making scripted attempts to appear engaged. He can keep going back down there, as he will again on Thursday when he gives a televised speech to the nation, but he can never compensate for his tragic inattention during days when so many lives could have been saved," Maureen Dowd wrote in her September 14, 2005, New York Times Op-Ed.

"It sure seemed obvious that the Administration was clueless in Iraq and many other places, but the press has consistently given the Bushies the benefit of the doubt on basic competence, despite ample evidence to the contrary.

"I think the most likely reason is that the press admired the skill the Administration has displayed in manipulating the press. Reporters, many of whom have themselves considered working on the PR side of the media racket, were so professionally impressed by how well the Bushies organized photo ops, managed the leaking process, and spun the news for them that they found it hard to believe that the Administration was as inept as it appeared at its lawfully mandated tasks." --Steve Sailer cited by Matthew Yglesias, September 7, 2005.

Related Links

Propaganda and Disinformation

  • John Aravosis of AMERICAblog commented, September 7, 2005: "Uh, that's a nice way of saying that Bush didn't cancel his vacation until the 3d day AFTER the hurricane had struck. Very cute spinning as Bush, the valiant, canceled his vacation early. Technically AP is correct, but in writing being technically correct isn't the goal - it's to write clearly in a way that your readers understand the facts. That sentence is 100% misleading and AP should know it."

Photo-Ops and "fake news"

  1. "Why are these helicopters being used as a backdrop for President Bush, instead of assisting the victims of Hurricane Katrina? ... Why are members of the Coast Guard being used as a backdrop for Bush’s press conference? Don’t they have more important things to do?," Think Progress asked September 2, 2005.
  2. "There was a striking dicrepancy between the CNN International report on the Bush visit to the New Orleans disaster zone, yesterday, and reports of the same event by German TV. ... ZDF News reported that the president's visit was a completely staged event. Their crew witnessed how the open air food distribution point Bush visited in front of the cameras was torn down immediately after the president and the herd of 'news people' had left and that others which were allegedly being set up were abandoned at the same time. ... The people in the area were once again left to fend for themselves, said ZDF," Laura Rozen, reported in War and Piece, September 3, 2005.
  3. "[T]he greatest disappointment [regarding the federal response] stands at the breached 17th Street levee. Touring this critical site yesterday with the President," Senator Mary Landrieu, D-La., said September 3, 2005, "I saw what I believed to be a real and significant effort to get a handle on a major cause of this catastrophe. Flying over this critical spot again this morning, less than 24 hours later, it became apparent that yesterday we witnessed a hastily prepared stage set for a Presidential photo opportunity; and the desperately needed resources we saw were this morning reduced to a single, lonely piece of equipment. The good and decent people of southeast Louisiana and the Gulf Coast - black and white, rich and poor, young and old - deserve far better from their national government."
  4. "Firefighters say they want to brave the heat, the debris-littered roads, the poisonous cottonmouth snakes and fire ants and travel into pockets of Louisiana where many people have yet to receive emergency aid. ... But as specific orders began arriving to the firefighters in Atlanta, a team of 50 Monday morning quickly was ushered onto a flight headed for Louisiana. The crew's first assignment: to stand beside President Bush as he tours devastated areas," Lisa Rosetta of The Salt Lake Tribune reported September 6, 2005.


SourceWatch Related Resources: Hurricane Katrina: List of related pages