Reporting on criticism of the government response to Hurricane Katrina, CBS' 48 Hours correspondent Peter Van Sant repeated Newsweek's characterization of Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco as “uncertain and sluggish,” a characterization accompanying the magazine's false suggestion that as of September 1 Blanco had not yet declared a state of emergency in response to Hurricane Katrina. In fact, Blanco made that declaration before Katrina made landfall. Van Sant also advanced the unfounded claim that Blanco approved a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans only after President Bush “convinced” her to do so. But, as Media Matters for America has noted, Bush reportedly called Blanco “just before” she and New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin were about to walk into a press conference to order the mandatory evacuation of the city, casting doubt over the suggestion that his phone call triggered the decision to evacuate.
In his report, Van Sant stated, “Published reports have said that during the crisis she [Blanco] seemed, quote, 'uncertain and sluggish.' ” Van Sant apparently pulled the quote from an article in the September 12 issue of Newsweek that described Blanco as seeming on September 1 “uncertain and sluggish, hesitant to declare martial law or a state of emergency, which would have opened the door to more Pentagon help.” But Blanco did declare a state of emergency on August 26, before Katrina made landfall. Newsweek has since issued a correction.
Van Sant went on to report that Blanco “had to be convinced by President Bush to declare a mandatory evacuation.” But Van Sant's claims appear highly dubious, as Blanco stated at the time that Bush had called her “just before” she walked into the press conference -- a timeline later confirmed by White House press secretary Scott McClellan. From her joint press conference with Nagin:
BLANCO: I want to reiterate what the mayor has said. This is a very dangerous time. Just before we walked into this room, President Bush called and told me to share with all of you that he is very concerned about the citizens. He is concerned about the impact that this hurricane would have on our people. And he asked me to please ensure that there would be a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans.
From the September 6 edition of CBS' 48 Hours:
VAN SANT: New Orleans' poor, immobile population was left behind, left to fend for themselves by city officials. New Orleans police seemed ill-prepared and were overwhelmed. Many cops simply quit their jobs. The biggest shelter from the storm was the Superdome. At first, it was a haven; it became a hellhole. Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco was herself singled out for criticism.
BLANCO [clip]: It's actually -- it's just heartbreaking.
VAN SANT: Published reports have said that during the crisis she seemed, quote, “uncertain and sluggish,” had to be convinced by President Bush to declare a mandatory evacuation. And she admitted feeling overwhelmed.