Wednesday, December 07, 2005

LA's document dump

My column this week (link forthcoming) comments on the recent release of more than 100,000 pages of documents detailing Louisiana's response before, during and after Katrina. Full text below:

While news reports about last Friday’s Katrina-related document dump attribute the governor’s release of the papers to a desire to set the record straight – not to mention a Congressional investigation – the content of those documents does little more than confirm the record as it already stood: Louisiana was ill-prepared for a disaster the size of Katrina. Even worse, once tragedy struck, there doesn’t appear to have been anyone in charge. Here's a question: How could Louisiana’s governor, in the midst of all the chaos, afford an hour-long appearance on Larry King Live? The evening of her appearance, August 30th, Mississippi’s governor spoke with King by phone for five minutes and then was off again doing whatever he thought a governor in a state just devastated by a massive hurricane should do. In his judgment that didn’t include taking calls from viewers. It’s not mean-spirited to be critical of Louisiana or the governor’s performance. Any even-handed assessment of what transpired is going to find plenty of evidence of things that didn’t work as they should have at all levels of government. But here’s the rub: The president took responsibility for the failed federal response. The governor would admit only that she might have relied too heavily on FEMA. And the mayor of New Orleans has been so frequently out of town that responsibility probably can’t find him. Did the White House try to extract political points after its lethargic early response to Katrina? No doubt. But these documents make clear that politics was also front-and-center as Louisiana’s government struggled to formulate its own response. On Sunday, CNN had this to say about the documents: “We are learning… about what was going on behind the scenes in the Louisiana governor's office as Hurricane Katrina roared ashore. Documents… suggest Governor Kathleen Blanco and her staff were unprepared, unorganized and focused on the governor's public image while New Orleans was in chaos.” This doesn’t set the record straight. It merely confirms what everyone was pretty sure they already knew. Commenting on the documents, the Washington Post noted, “Raw and frequently conflicting, reflecting the chaotic conditions in the initial hours after the storm hit, the records paint an intimate portrait of a state struggling to overcome extremes of weather and bureaucratic incompetence as the storm ripped its way across the state.” The Advocate also referred to the documents saying “As thousands waited to be rescued after Hurricane Katrina, the governor’s top aides brainstormed on ways to make an embattled Gov. Kathleen Blanco look more ‘John Wayne’ than ‘first lady.’” No one’s pretending that politics didn’t play a part behind the scenes in Washington or Baton Rouge or anywhere else during and after Katrina. But one thing’s for sure: If the president and his party were indeed scheming to make Louisiana look bad, they had a lot of extra help from the state and its leadership.