In a December 4 article by reporter Eric Lipton, The New York Times ignored its own prior reporting by quoting, without challenge, the Bush administration's claim that President Bush "never tried to single out Louisiana for blame" in the poor government response to Hurricane Katrina. Just days after the hurricane hit, a September 5 Times article by Adam Nagourney and Anne E. Kornblut reported that the Bush administration "sought to move the blame for the slow response to Louisiana state officials, according to Republicans familiar with the White House plan."
Lipton's report, which assessed a series of recently released Louisiana state documents detailing Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco's (D) response to the hurricane, quoted from a number of the documents in reporting that Blanco's aides were "certain the White House was trying to blame their boss" for the poor response to the hurricane. But instead of noting what the Times had previously reported -- that the Bush administration consciously undertook to reassign blame in the catastrophe -- Lipton cited a blanket denial by Dana M. Perino,a White House spokeswoman:
Dana M. Perino, a White House spokeswoman, said Mr. Bush never tried to single out Louisiana for blame. But she added that all government agencies bore some fault.
"President Bush has been very clear that all levels of government could have done a better job," Ms. Perino said, "and we are focused on completing our lessons learned and making sure we understand what went wrong and that it never happens again."
Despite neglecting to set the record straight on the Bush administration's damage-control strategy to shift the blame for Katrina to state and local officials, Lipton reported Democrats' comments, shown in the documents, regarding the political ramifications of the response to the hurricane. Citing New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin's criticism of Bush for "merely flying over" the city and one state document's revelation that Democrats believed the White House would have "a full blown PR disaster/scandal on their hands," Lipton wrote that it is "clear that Democrats in Washington recognized that the federal response to the storm provided an opportunity to win some political points":
The struggle with Washington and questions of who was in charge - the state or federal government - emerge frequently in the correspondence. It is also clear that Democrats in Washington recognized that the federal response to the storm provided an opportunity to win some political points.
Aides to Senator Harry Reid [D-NV], the Democratic leader, called Mr. [Blanco communications director Bob] Mann to discuss strategy, a conversation that indirectly included Mike McCurry, the former press secretary to President Clinton, according to one e-mail message.
"By the weekend, the Bush administration will have a full blown PR disaster/scandal on their hands because of the late response to needs in New Orleans," Mr. Mann wrote on Sept. 1, the Thursday after the storm, attributing that observation to Mr. McCurry. The same day, Mayor C. Ray Nagin of New Orleans gave an emotional radio interview in which he criticized Mr. Bush for having merely flown over the city in Air Force One.