In two separate reports, Fox News' Major Garrett omitted key conclusions pertaining to the White House, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Defense in a recently released Senate report on the government response to Hurricane Katrina, while highlighting findings implicating the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and state and local officials.
In two April 27 reports, Fox News correspondent Major Garrett omitted key conclusions pertaining to the White House, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Department of Defense in a recently released Senate report on the government response to Hurricane Katrina, while highlighting findings implicating the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and state and local officials. Garrett's separate reports for Special Report with Brit Hume and The Big Story with John Gibson were the latest additions to the Fox News trend of trying to cast blame for the government response to Hurricane Katrina solely onto local and state officials and former FEMA director Michael D. Brown and away from the Bush administration and DHS as a whole.
On April 26, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs released a draft report, Hurricane Katrina: A Nation Still Unprepared, including bipartisan recommendations to improve disaster response. As Garrett noted, the report recommended dismantling the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which it deemed ineffective, and stated that Brown “lacked the leadership skills that were needed.” Garrett also highlighted the report's criticism of state and local officials, which it determined “did not marshal enough of the resources at their disposal,” and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, who along with Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D) “knew the limitations of their resources to address a catastrophe -- did not specify those needs adequately to the federal government before landfall.”
But in passages of the report that were ignored by Garrett, it also clearly laid blame on DHS, President Bush, and the military. From the April 26 draft of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs' report Hurricane Katrina: A Nation Still Unprepared:
More broadly, DHS -- as the department charged with preparing for and responding to domestic incidents, whether terrorist attacks or natural disasters -- failed to effectively lead the federal response to Hurricane Katrina. DHS leadership failed to bring a sense of urgency to the federal government's preparation for Hurricane Katrina, and Secretary [Michael] Chertoff himself should have been more engaged in preparations over the weekend before landfall.
Secretary Chertoff could have helped remove uncertainty about the federal government's need and authority to take initiative before landfall and signaled that all federal government agencies were expected to think -- and act -- proactively in preparing for and responding to Katrina.
And while the Department of Defense (DOD) took additional steps to prepare for Katrina beyond those it had taken for prior civil support missions, its preparations were not sufficient for a storm of Katrina's magnitude.
In addition, the White House shares responsibility for the inadequate pre-landfall preparations.
[T]he President did not leave his Texas ranch to return to Washington until two days after landfall, and only then convened his Cabinet as well as a White House task force to oversee federal response efforts.
In contrast to Garrett's omissions in reporting the Senate's findings, CBS and ABC all noted the wider blame cast by the Senate committee's report. On the CBS Evening News, White House correspondent Jim Axelrod, after noting the report's recommendation to scrap FEMA, said that the report “goes well beyond FEMA and takes aim at the White House itself,” before playing a video clip of committee chairwoman Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) stating that “The White House's response was by no means perfect. It was flawed. The White House failed to quickly grasp the urgency of the crisis.” Additionally, ABC News correspondent David Kerley, on World News Tonight, stated: “In the report, Chertoff and others were criticized. The Democratic leader of the committee, Joe Lieberman, who praised the president's leadership after 9-11, blamed Mr. Bush for the Katrina debacle.”
In addition to documenting incidents in which Fox News correspondents have focused blame for the widely criticized response to Hurricane Katrina almost entirely on state and local officials, Media Matters for America has also noted Garrett's false claim that a report on Katrina by a select committee of the House of Representatives 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.
From the April 27 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:
HUME: It has been said that the job of the Federal Emergency Management Agency is to write checks and take blame. Today, FEMA was taking more than its usual share of blame as a bipartisan congressional panel said it had managed its response -- the agency had -- to Hurricane Katrina so poorly, it should be abolished altogether. Fox News correspondent Major Garrett reports.
GARRETT: Katrina revealed fatal flaws in the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a Senate panel concluded today. The panel also recommended the president abolish FEMA and replace it with a more independent and nimble emergency response agency.
COLLINS: FEMA is discredited, demoralized and dysfunctional. It is beyond repair.
LIEBERMAN: It is a sick organization. And it has totally lost the confidence of the people of America who it was created to protect.
GARRETT: The committee recommended replacing FEMA with what it calls a national preparedness and response authority, which, like FEMA, would remain in the Department of Homeland Security. But unlike FEMA, it would operate 10 regional strike teams with expertise in dealing with state and local governments, marshaling emergency supplies, and coordinating with relief agencies and the private sector.
COLLINS: This represents a dramatic change in the national approach to disasters.
GARRETT: President Bush made his 10th trip to Louisiana and Mississippi. In New Orleans, he worked with Mayor Ray Nagin and Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco to rebuild flood ravaged homes. The president did not address calls to abolish FEMA but on the tasks ahead.
BUSH: We've learned lessons at the federal level, state level, and the local level, and we're now working closely together in preparation of the upcoming hurricane season.
GARRETT: In Washington, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said this is not the time to dismantle FEMA.
CHERTOFF: I'm interested here, you know, a month before hurricane season not in engaging in moving the boxes around on the org chart. I'm interested in making sure we've got the planning finished.
GARRETT: Louisiana Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu said the White House may not be able to stop Congress from scrapping FEMA.
LANDRIEU: I think it will really accelerate the debate and push us to a place where I felt we should have been going all along, which is to abolish and reorganize FEMA.
GARRETT: The report also blamed New Orleans and Louisiana for failing to evacuate tens of thousands of elderly and disabled residents before Katrina struck.
LIEBERMAN: The city and state failed to arrange transportation for the hundred thousand people in New Orleans who they were forewarned would be unwilling or unable to evacuate themselves.
GARRETT: Another failure, the report said: New Orleans officials did not prepare to house evacuees at the Superdome or the convention center.
COLLINS: Mayor Nagin failed to inform FEMA and other federal officials that he was sending people to the convention center, so he did not make provision for food, water, and other necessary supplies.
GARRETT: The report also accused former FEMA director Michael Brown of spending more time settling bureaucratic scores than solving problems.
COLLINS: He allowed his personal feelings, his distaste for being in the Department of Homeland Security to override his clear obligation to provide effective leadership at a time when lives were at stake.
GARRETT: Brown, on Fox's Your World with Neil Cavuto, said the Senate panel followed many of his suggestions to revamp FEMA.
BROWN: It's too bad that Senator Collins has to take a cheap shot and come out and say, “Well, y'all, this was Brown's fault, but we are going to, in essence, follow his recommendation.”
GARRETT: The senators who want to scrap FEMA conceded it will be the lead agency in dealings with hurricanes this year. They said it was better prepared than it was last year, but just barely. Brit?
HUME: OK, Major, thank you.
From the April 27 edition of Fox News' The Big Story with John Gibson:
GIBSON: A Senate report on the government's response to Hurricane Katrina says FEMA is so far beyond repair that the agency should be scrapped. But the White House says the hurricane season just weeks away, now is not the time to be, quote, “moving organizational boxes around.” Fox's Major Garrett, live in Washington. So, “Heck of a Job Brownie” got nailed in this report, didn't he, Major?
GARRETT: Yes, he did, and he has his own response to it, and I'll get to that in a minute, John. The Senate Homeland Security Committee spoke with nearly bipartisan voice today. Not only did it call for an end to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, it said that agency failed, in its view, to anticipate and then respond to Katrina. It also said a new agency with broader powers and direct access to the president is needed.
COLLINS: FEMA is discredited, demoralized, and dysfunctional. It is beyond repair. Just tweaking the organizational chart will not solve the problem.
GARRETT: The committee tackled some other Katrina-related problems. Blaming Louisiana, New Orleans officials for failing to evacuate more than 100,000 elderly and disabled residents. The report said pre-Katrina hurricane exercises revealed the overwhelming need to evacuate this vulnerable population, but it said proper measures were never taken.
LIBERMAN: The city and state failed to arrange transportation for the hundred thousand people in New Orleans who they were forewarned would be unwilling or unable to evacuate themselves.
GARRETT: Back to the fate of FEMA, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff dismissed calls for the end of that agency, saying it does not need, in his words, a new name and a new coat of paint.
CHERTOFF: I'm interested here, you know, a month before hurricane season not in engaging in moving the boxes around on the org chart. I'm interested in imagine sure we've got the planning finished.
GARRETT: One Louisiana senator, Mary Landrieu, says the Senate report calls for much more, in her opinion, than moving boxes around a chart or changing names.
LANDRIEU (video clip): To me it seemed like it was much more than just changing the name. That it was reorganizing FEMA into 10 strike forces, regional strike forces, decentralizing it, and making it more effective.
GARRETT: The report, as you indicated, John, also blamed former FEMA director Michael Brown for insubordination. It said Brown nursed bureaucratic grudges much more than dealing with problems on the ground that the report said could have saved lives. Brown this afternoon called the charges a “cheap shot,” and he said he had already recommended many changes the Senate panel endorsed only today. John, back to you.
GIBSON: Major Garrett. Major, thank you.
From the April 27 broadcast of the CBS Evening News:
BOB SCHIEFFER (anchor): After a lengthy investigation, the congressional architects of the Department of Homeland Security concluded today that FEMA, the agency that is supposed to respond to hurricanes and national disasters, should be taken out of the mammoth Homeland Security bureaucracy, disbanded, then put back together in a better way and placed under direct control of the president during emergencies. Our White House correspondent Jim Axelrod now with more on that.
AXELROD: While the president slipped into a carpenter's apron in Louisiana today to pitch in with rebuilding the Gulf Coast, back in Washington an entirely different sort of post-Katrina hammering was under way, with senators calling for FEMA to be abolished.
COLLINS: FEMA is discredited, demoralized, and dysfunctional. It is beyond repair.
AXELROD: FEMA, they say, was crippled during Katrina by too many layers of Department of Homeland Security bureaucracy. It's time to scrap the agency charged with preparing the nation for disasters and managing the response, they say, and start over.
LIEBERMAN: The central federal agency for monitoring and distributing information in a time of crisis, natural or terrorist, failed miserably, inexplicably, and infuriatingly.
AXELROD: But the senators' solution is to replace one agency with another. Like FEMA, the National Preparedness and Response Authority would be part of the Department of Homeland Security. But unlike FEMA, it would deal directly with the president during catastrophes. Thirty-four days from hurricane season, the president promised an efficient response should disaster strike again.
BUSH: One of the things that we're working on is to make sure that we've learned the lessons from Katrina.
AXELROD: But clearly his administration is not too impressed with the idea of scrapping FEMA. But this report goes well beyond FEMA and takes aim at the White House itself.
COLLINS: The White House's response was by no means perfect. It was flawed. The White House failed to quickly grasp the urgency of the crisis.
AXELROD: No one is talking about eliminating FEMA's 2,600 jobs nor its $2.7 billion budget. This is about a name change and a new communication chain. And if anything is going to happen, it certainly won't be before this year's hurricane season, and chances are not before next year's either, Bob.
SCHIEFFER: All right. Well, thanks, Jim.
From the April 27 broadcast of ABC's World News Tonight:
ELIZABETH VARGAS (anchor): As we said, President Bush visited the Gulf Coast today, his 11th trip to the region devastated by Hurricane Katrina. With a new hurricane season just five weeks away, he promised a better response to the next catastrophic storm. But in Washington, a Senate investigation raised serious doubts about the ability of the Federal Emergency Management Agency to handle a disaster. It said FEMA is so flawed, it should be abolished altogether. Here's ABC's David Kerley.
KERLEY: The massive FEMA failures, the bungling bureaucracy during Hurricane Katrina can't be fixed, says a Senate committee. So, the agency should be dismantled.
COLLINS: FEMA is discredited, demoralized, and dysfunctional. It is beyond repair.
KERLEY: In their bipartisan report, senators propose creating a new agency with a new name. But it would still be part of the Department of Homeland Security. However, during emergencies, the head of that agency would report directly to the president. Critics say the plan only amounts to reshuffling and renaming the agency.
JERRY HAUER (former emergency management official): Dismantling FEMA at this point in time, it doesn't solve the problem. The problem, and the basic problem, is one of leadership. And FEMA didn't have the right leadership, didn't have the support from the White House. It failed, and this is not going to fix it.
KERLEY: The president, in New Orleans today, says the country is already better prepared.
BUSH: We're now working closely together in preparation of the upcoming hurricane season.
KERLEY: While polite, the president's homeland security adviser dismissed the Senate plan.
FRAN TOWNSEND (White House homeland security adviser): I don't think it's productive to talk about dismantling an agency. I mean, I really think -- what the point of this is, is to strengthen the inherent response and preparation capability.
KERLEY: The homeland secretary was more blunt.
CHERTOFF: I don't have a lot of time to fuss about the naming issue.
KERLEY: In the report, Chertoff and others were criticized. The Democratic leader of the committee, Joe Lieberman, who praised the president's leadership after 9-11, blamed Mr. Bush for the Katrina debacle.
LIEBERMAN: In the case of Hurricane Katrina, he failed to provide that same presidential leadership when it was needed, and America suffered.
KERLEY: Even if the White House supported scrapping FEMA, it could take months to pass legislation, even longer to create a new agency -- little help with an approaching hurricane season. David Kerley, ABC News, Washington.