MSNBC host Joe Scarborough falsely claimed that, in a recently released videotape made shortly after Hurricane Katrina's landfall, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco "guaranteed" that New Orleans' levees "had not been breached," when in fact the levees had already broken. However, contrary to Scarborough's assertion, the tape reportedly shows Blanco offering the tentative and qualified assessment that -- based on information available to her at the time -- the levees had not yet been breached, but "[t]hat could change."
On the March 3 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews and the March 6 edition of MSNBC's Scarborough Country, MSNBC host and former congressman Joe Scarborough (R-FL) falsely claimed that, in a recently released videotape made shortly after Hurricane Katrina's landfall, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D) "guaranteed" that New Orleans' levees "had not been breached," when in fact the levees had already broken. But contrary to Scarborough's assertions, the tape reportedly shows Blanco offering the tentative and qualified assessment that -- based on information available to her at the time -- the levees had not yet been breached, but "[t]hat could change."
Scarborough based his false claim on recent news coverage of the videotaped recording of an August 29 briefing attended by Blanco and members of the Bush administration. On the March 3 edition of Hardball, Scarborough falsely claimed that the videotape showed "Blanco telling everybody, 'Don't worry, the levees, they're not going to break.' " Similarly, in a March 6 Scarborough Country interview with former Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) director Michael D. Brown -- who attended the August 29 briefing with Blanco -- Scarborough told Brown: "She [Blanco] guaranteed you all at one point that the levees were OK, they had not been breached."
But news reporting on the content of the tape makes no mention of any "guarantee" by Blanco that the levees would hold, as Scarborough suggested. Rather, the reports show that Blanco said that although she did not believe the levees had yet been breached, "[t]hat could change," and water was reportedly already pouring over the tops of the levees.
The Associated Press, which first obtained the videotape, reported March 3:
In the hectic hours after Hurricane Katrina lashed the Gulf Coast, Louisiana's governor hesitantly but mistakenly assured the Bush administration that New Orleans' protective levees were intact, according to a new video obtained by the Associated Press showing briefings that day with federal officials.
"We keep getting reports in some places that maybe water is coming over the levees," Gov. Kathleen Blanco said shortly after noon on Aug. 29, according to the video that was obtained Thursday night.
"We heard a report unconfirmed, I think, we have not breached the levee. I think we have not breached the levee at this time."
In fact, the National Weather Service received a report of a levee breach and issued a flash-flood warning as early as 9:12 a.m. that day, according to the White House's formal recounting of events the day Katrina struck.
Blanco is not shown in the video but is heard speaking from an emergency operations center in Baton Rouge, La., to 11 people sitting around a table at the headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Washington.
She sounds uncertain about the reliability of her information and cautioned that the situation "could change."
The New Orleans Times-Picayune, which obtained a transcript of the videotape days before the AP obtained the tape itself, gave a similar account of Blanco's qualified statements March 1:
Later in the call, White House aide Joe Hagin asks specifically about the condition of the levees. Gov. Kathleen Blanco tells him that no failures were confirmed -- yet.
"We keep getting reports in some places that maybe water is coming over the levees," Blanco said. "I think we have not breached the levee. We have not breached the levee at this point in time. That could change, but in some places we have floodwaters coming in New Orleans East and the line at St. Bernard Parish where we have waters that are 8- to 10-feet deep, and we have people swimming in there, that's got a considerable amount of water."
From the March 3 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:
SCARBOROUGH: There's one image I remember as somebody who was in the path of Hurricane Katrina when it was coming up, it was President Bush. I remember I was on my couch Saturday morning, Bush came on the TV, a remarkable Saturday press conference saying Hurricane Katrina is coming your way, basically said, "Get the hell out of Dodge."
So that's why it's no surprise to me. Bush knew this was going to be a huge storm. I've got to say the other tape though that's significant is the one that came out with Blanco telling everybody, "Don't worry, the levees, they're not going to break." This is three hours after the National Weather Service said, "The levees have broken! Get out of New Orleans!"
MATTHEWS: Well maybe her re-election campaign will have that remarked upon.
From the March 6 edition of MSNBC's Scarborough Country:
SCARBOROUGH: Speaking of blurring together, Katherine (sic) Blanco, the governor of Louisiana, seemed to be blanked out through the entire crisis. She guaranteed you all at one point that the levees were OK, they had not been breached.
And yet we find out now by looking at some of these tapes that have been released from Blanco, that actually she gave those assurances to you three or four hours after the National Weather Service had already warned people that there was flooding because the levees had been overrun.
Was Blanco clueless throughout this entire process?
BROWN: Well, bless her heart, you know, she's a really nice woman. But I think there was so much confusion, she had such a horrible decision-making process around her.
But I think it's important for Americans to understand this timeline. At 1:49 p.m., one of my staffers handed me her BlackBerry and I read on that BlackBerry from my person on the ground that the 17th Street Canal levee had broken. And I turned to her and said immediately, "I'm calling the White House."
And her testimony before Congress is, that I immediately gave her BlackBerry back and went back and called the White House. So, sometime between 1:49 and whenever I got that first call through, between 1 and 2 o'clock, we all knew that the 17th Street Canal levee had broken and that my worst fears were coming true.