Chavez, Murdock advanced dubious claim that Bush convinced Blanco to evacuate New Orleans

Conservative syndicated columnists Linda Chavez and Deroy Murdock advanced the dubious claim that it took a telephone call from President Bush to prompt Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco to order the mandatory evacuation of New Orleans. As Media Matters for America has previously documented, there is little evidence to support this contention.

An August 28 statement by Blanco made clear that President Bush called her just before the August 28 press conference at which the evacuation was announced, casting doubt on the claim that Bush's phone call was a decisive factor in the decision to evacuate. This timeline was later confirmed by White House press secretary Scott McClellan during the September 7 White House press briefing, when he reported that Bush had spoken to Blanco “around 9:00 a.m.,” just minutes before the governor's 9:30 a.m. CT August 28 press conference began. The press conference opened with New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin -- not Blanco, as Chavez and Murdock stated -- declaring the mandatory evacuation.

Additionally, Chavez conflated the governor's decision to declare a state of emergency in Louisiana with the decision to call for a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans. As a timeline makes clear, these were completely separate events: Blanco declared a state of emergency on August 26, two days before Bush's August 28 phone call and Nagin's August 28 call for mandatory evacuations. Moreover, it was Blanco who asked Bush on August 27 to declare a federal state of emergency in Louisiana, not the other way around, as Chavez suggested. The president declared a federal state of emergency in Louisiana later that day.

On the September 7 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, Murdock stated:

MURDOCK: I think there's a huge difference between saying, “Look, maybe the president is not giving enough money to education, even though the education budget has gone up by about 50 percent under this president,” saying that on the one side, and saying on the other he doesn't care about blacks and therefore he's willing to let them sit out in the sun and dehydrate. I was very frustrated, wondering why they couldn't manage at least to get water to these people until Friday. They should have air dropped water in.

But the president ordered -- pushed on Governor Blanco to have a mandatory evacuation. That was on Sunday. I think on Saturday he declared a state of emergency, came back from his vacation -- probably a day or two later than he should have, but did come back, asked Congress to come in. They approved $10.5 billion, which he signed. So if he really didn't care about black people, I don't think you would have seen -- you wouldn't have seen him pushing for this evacuation.

Similarly, in her September 7 column, Chavez wrote:

Gov. Blanco delayed taking crucial actions -- in fact, it was the president who called her to plead that she declare an emergency. “Gov. Kathleen Blanco, standing beside the mayor at a news conference, said President Bush called and personally appealed for a mandatory evacuation for the low-lying city, which is prone to flooding,” the Associated Press reported Aug. 28.

Chavez's column is distributed by Creators Syndicate. Murdock's column is distributed by Scripps Howard News Service. He is a contributing editor at National Review Online.