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On the September 19 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, two on-air personalities repeated the false claim that the federal government lacked the authority to supersede state and local authorities in responding to Hurricane Katrina, continuing a pattern of misinformation concerning this subject on Special Report. During a news segment, Fox White House correspondent Wendell Goler reported that White House senior adviser Karl Rove may have admitted during a recent private appearance that "it was a mistake for the federal government not to override local authority," but Goler falsely added that "privately, authorities admit the federal government has no such authority." In fact, as Media Matters for America has previously documented, federal officials had clear authority under the Department of Homeland Security's National Response Plan to supersede state and local officials in responding to catastrophic events. Washington Post columnist and Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer echoed Goler's falsehood later during a panel discussion segment on Special Report, wrongly claiming the federal government "didn't have it [authority] at the time."
Such misleading accounts of the federal government's authority to respond to catastrophic events have previously appeared on Special Report, as well as in The Washington Post and in columnist Jack Kelly's syndicated column -- and have been corrected by Media Matters. Since this earlier reporting, a review of internal documents by Knight Ridder published on September 13 has confirmed that federal Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, despite having full authority to initiate independent federal action even before the hurricane landed, delayed a full 36 hours after Katrina passed over the Gulf Coast to authorize then-Federal Emergency Management Agency director Michael D. Brown to take such action.
From the September 19 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:
GOLER: White House counselor Karl Rove is reported to have told a group over the weekend, it was a mistake for the federal government not to override local authority when Katrina hit. But privately, authorities admit the federal government has no such authority. Still, a new disaster [Hurricane Rita] is the last thing the White House wants as it grapples with the cost of the last one. With the federal tab for Katrina likely to be well over $100 billion, press secretary Scott McClellan says the president rules out tax hikes; he'll try and sell Congress on budget cuts lawmakers have rejected in the past.
Later in the same edition of Special Report during a panel discussion featuring Krauthammer:
KRAUTHAMMER: But once you start people entering into a city, you've got to have facilities, you have to have support structures, you've got to have emergency services. None of that is in place. He backs down, but the major issue is that we don't have agreed-upon lines of authority in a catastrophe like this, which is why we had the tug of war between the feds and the state and the locals at the beginning.
We're going to have to decide with new laws if you have either an inept local and state government, or an overwhelmed local and state government, when and how the federal government steps in. Because it gets blamed, it's got to have the authority; it obviously didn't have it at the time.