Wash. Post again downplayed ex-FEMA director Brown's inexperience with disaster relief

››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

For a second time, The Washington Post dismissed as commonplace former Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) director Michael D. Brown's lack of disaster relief experience, without noting that experienced disaster relief professionals were appointed under President Clinton. Rather than compare Brown to his predecessor, James Lee Witt -- who served four years as the director of the Arkansas Office of Emergency Services before earning wide, bipartisan praise for his performance as Clinton's FEMA director -- Post staff writer Christopher Lee chose to compare Brown to former Clinton personnel security chief Craig Livingstone, because both were patronage appointments.

In a September 19 report, Lee focused on Livingstone to emphasize that the political cronyism that spawned Brown's appointment by President Bush also occurred under Clinton:

Long before Michael D. Brown became the poster boy for the overwhelmed and lightly qualified political appointee in Washington, there was Craig Livingstone, a former barroom bouncer who dreamed of bigger things and found them in the Clinton White House.

Livingstone parlayed a stint as an advance man for then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton in the 1992 presidential campaign into a White House job as head of personnel security. He relished the clout of handling background checks of White House employees, swaggering around the West Wing in dark glasses and attending film premieres with beautiful women.

Lee compared Brown's inadequate response to Hurricane Katrina to Livingstone's involvement in "a scandal over the improper requisitioning of more than 400 FBI background reports" on predominantly Republican employees from previous administrations, writing: "Administrations of both political parties have long track records of appointing cronies who are out of their depth to key executive branch positions, only to see them disappoint or fail, sometimes spectacularly."

But at no point did Lee address how Brown's appointment contrasts with Clinton's choice for FEMA director. As Media Matters for America has noted, unlike Brown, Witt had significant experience in dealing with emergencies when he was appointed by Clinton in 1993, having previously served for four years as the director of the Arkansas Office of Emergency Services (now the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management). Further, Witt's top FEMA assistants, Lynn Gilmore Canton and Michael J. Armstrong, ran regional FEMA offices before assuming senior positions in Washington.

During his tenure, Witt was very respected by both Democrats and Republicans. A January 16, 2001, National Journal article noted:

Indeed, at a time when Washington seems more polarized than ever, most Democrats and Republicans have been able to agree on one thing: that the little-known Witt represents the very best of the Clinton Administration. He has made FEMA much more responsive to the public. He has worked to prevent disasters. He has cut a significant amount of bureaucratic red tape. And he has helped boost the public image of a once-troubled agency that was about to be placed under the governmental guillotine.

Bush himself praised Witt during an October 3, 2000, presidential debate, saying that Witt "has done a really good job of working with governors during times of crisis."

The Post similarly overlooked Clinton's appointment of experienced FEMA officials in a September 9 report which noted that "[p]atronage appointments to the crisis-response agency are nothing new to Washington administrations."

Posted In
Government, Cabinet & Agencies
Stories/Interests
Hurricane Katrina, Natural Disasters
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