Fox News' Major Garrett falsely claimed that the House of Representatives report on Hurricane Katrina verified Fox News reporting that Louisiana officials prevented the American Red Cross from delivering needed supplies to the Louisiana Superdome in the aftermath of the storm. In fact, the report highlighted the testimony of Red Cross senior vice president Joseph C. Becker, who said, "[W]e were asked by state and federal officials not to enter New Orleans."
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On the February 16 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, correspondent Major Garrett distorted a House of Representatives select committee report on the response to Hurricane Katrina, falsely claiming that it "verified original Fox News reporting that Louisiana officials prevented the Red Cross from delivering food, water, and medical kits to evacuees stranded at the Louisiana Superdome." In fact, the select committee report highlighted the congressional testimony of Joseph C. Becker, American Red Cross senior vice president for preparedness and response, who told the House Ways and Means Committee that "we were asked by state and federal officials not to enter New Orleans." [Emphasis added.] Becker also articulated the view expressed by other Red Cross officials, as Media Matters for America noted at the time, that, in Becker's words included in the House report, "[I]t was not deemed safe for Red Cross personnel to re-enter the city of New Orleans. The Red Cross does not place our client evacuees, staff, volunteers, or resources in harm's way."
As Garrett noted, this is not the first time he has made this claim. In September 2005 reports, Garrett and other Fox News employees cited misleading and contradictory Red Cross accounts that blamed state officials for the bungled response to the hurricane. These reports closely followed the Bush administration's reported strategy of blaming the faulty response to the hurricane on Democratic state and local officials.
From the February 16 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:
GARRETT: And the House Select Committee report on Katrina released yesterday verified original Fox News reporting that Louisiana officials prevented the Red Cross from delivering food, water, and medical kits to evacuees stranded at the Louisiana Superdome.
"After Katrina passed, the Red Cross did attempt to deliver provisions to the Superdome, but was denied access," the report said.
That select report also confirmed Fox reporting that Louisiana officials explained to the Red Cross the reason they did not want relief supplies brought to the Superdome would be that that would delay the evacuation of the Superdome. Now, House Democrats filed a separate report challenging many conclusions of this select committee report. Democrats, however, did not dispute this particular finding.
Rather than "verifying" Garrett's misleading September 2005 reports, the final report of the House Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina undermined them. Titled "A Failure of Initiative," the report contained one assertion of fact written by the committee about the Red Cross' absence from New Orleans after the storm: "After Katrina passed, the Red Cross did attempt to deliver provisions to the Superdome, but was denied access." In a footnote to that statement, the report cited two sources: An October 14, 2005, select committee interview with Becker and Becker's December 13, 2005, Ways and Means testimony.
In his testimony before the Ways and Means Committee, Becker clearly stated that "state and federal officials" asked that the Red Cross not enter New Orleans, that this was "consistent" with previous Red Cross practices, and that the Red Cross "does not place our client evacuees, staff, volunteers, or resources in harm's way."
From Becker's December 13, 2005, testimony, as it appeared in the select committee's report:
The Convention Center and the Superdome served as refuges of last resort. Under state plans, these facilities are to open when local authorities terminate an evacuation due to unsafe driving conditions. These facilities are not operated by the Red Cross. In practice, after the threat has passed, the Red Cross at times staffs shelters of last resort, providing services to people. We do not establish shelters in facilities that do not meet our criteria for safety during landfall.
Consistent with State and local plans, and our practice in previous disasters, we were asked by state and federal officials not to enter New Orleans. While we were in constant communication with local and state authorities, it was not deemed safe for Red Cross personnel to re-enter the city of New Orleans. The Red Cross does not place our client evacuees, staff, volunteers, or resources in harm's way. It is our practice to heed evacuation orders and assist those in need of shelter outside of high-risk areas.
Additionally, it was the goal of local and state officials to fully evacuate the city of New Orleans after the storm passed. We were instructed by authorities that, in addition to issues of safety, if the Red Cross provided services to survivors within New Orleans, it would discourage people from heeding evacuation orders. At the direction of public officials, we entered New Orleans in a coordinated fashion to provide services at the earliest possible time.
The report also quoted a third source -- a September 3, 2005, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article headlined, "Homeland Security won't let Red Cross deliver food." From the Post-Gazette article, as cited in the report:
"The Homeland Security Department has requested and continues to request that the American Red Cross not come back into New Orleans. Right now access is controlled by the National Guard and local authorities. ... We cannot get into New Orleans against their orders," Renita Hosler, a Red Cross spokesperson, told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
The Post-Gazette article's lead sentence -- not quoted in the report -- stated: "As the National Guard delivered food to the New Orleans convention center yesterday, American Red Cross officials said that federal emergency management authorities would not allow them to do the same."*
At the time, Hosler appears to have agreed with the decision, citing dangerous conditions and a need to evacuate the city. From the Post-Gazette article:
Though frustrated, Hosler understood the reasons. The goal is to move people out of an uninhabitable city, and relief operations might keep them there. Security is so bad that she fears feeding stations might get ransacked.
"It's not about fault and blame right now. The situation is like an hourglass, and we are in the smallest part right now. Everything is trying to get through it," she said. "They're trying to help people get out."
Hosler apparently provided a similar account for a September 13, 2005, report on the website Raw Story, saying that city, state, and federal officials made the decision with the Red Cross "at the table":
We "will not put [our] own workers in harm's way," Red Cross spokesperson Renita Hosler told RAW STORY.
Hosler explained that the Red Cross was "at the table" with "Emergency Management" numerous times while conditions deteriorated in New Orleans and that a decision was reached that if the group set up shop within the city, it might encourage others to come back, creating a secondary crisis.
Hosler confirmed that authorities turned down repeated offers by the Red Cross to enter New Orleans with supplies. New Orleans, she asserted, was considered too unsafe for the Red Cross to enter.
The Emergency Management Team, Hosler says, was comprised of city, state, and federal officials.
In addition, Garrett failed to note -- in both his February and his September 2005 reports -- that other Red Cross officials appeared to agree with the decision to keep the Red Cross out of New Orleans at the time, and immediately after, that decision was made. The officials cited both safety concerns and the need to evacuate the city in justifying the decision.
KING: The Red Cross is not in New Orleans. Why?
EVANS: Well, Larry, when the storm came, our goal was prior to landfall to support the evacuation. It was unsafe to be in the city. We were asked by the city not to be there, and the Superdome was made a shelter of last resorts and, quite frankly in retrospect, it was a good idea because otherwise those people would have had no shelter at all.
We have our shelters north of the city. We're prepared as soon as they can be evacuated, we're prepared to receive them in Texas, in other states, but it was not safe to be in the city, and it's not been safe to go back into the city. They were also concerned that if we located, relocated back into the city, people wouldn't leave, and they've got to leave.
EVANS: Well, Larry, we were asked, directed by the National Guard and the city and the state emergency management not to go into New Orleans because it was not safe. We are not a search and rescue organization. We provide shelter and basic support, and so we were depending, we are depending on the state and the agencies to get people to our shelters in safe places.
In a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section apparently posted on its website September 2, 2005 -- just days after the storm hit New Orleans -- the Red Cross emphasized that its "presence would keep people from evacuating and encourage others to come into the city," and noted that "[w]e are an organization of civilian volunteers and cannot get relief aid into any location until the local authorities say it is safe and provide us with security and access." The FAQ concluded by describing the Red Cross' "appropriate role" under the circumstances:
As the remaining people are evacuated from New Orleans, the most appropriate role for the Red Cross is to provide a safe place for people to stay and to see that their emergency needs are met. We are fully staffed and equipped to handle these individuals once they are evacuated.
During the 1 p.m. ET segment of Fox News Live on September 8, 2005, Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson asked Jason Golden, a local Red Cross spokesman in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, whether the organization was "on board with this mission, then, to not have the Red Cross in New Orleans." He responded, "Absolutely."
But as Media Matters noted, Evans shifted her characterization of the decision following her Larry King interview. For example, Garrett's September 8, 2005, report on Special Report featured footage of Evans asserting: "We were ready from literally the time the storm blew through. We were ready to go. We just were not given permission to go in." In that report -- as in his February 16 report -- Garrett placed the responsibility for this decision solely on state officials.
From the September 8, 2005, edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:
GARRETT: The Louisiana department of homeland security kept the Red Cross and Salvation Army from delivering relief supplies to stranded evacuees at the Superdome and New Orleans Convention Center.
GARRETT: State authorities told both relief organizations delivering food and water would impede evacuation efforts.
* A September 9, 2005, Media Matters item that cited Hosler's comments in the Post-Gazette stated: "The Gazette appears to have incorrectly reported that it was federal officials that had asked the Red Cross to stay out of New Orleans." The point of the item was that, contrary to media reports, including Garrett's, the Red Cross agreed with state and local officials that it was not safe for its staff and volunteers to go into New Orleans. The Post-Gazette article did not provide specific evidence of federal involvement in the decision that the Red Cross would stay out, and it was uncertain at the time whether Hosler was referring to the federal or Louisiana state Department of Homeland Security. Becker's testimony, as well as Hosler's subsequent Raw Story interview, confirms that federal officials were, in fact, involved in keeping the Red Cross out of New Orleans following Katrina.