Newsweek: Giuliani is “man of destiny”; it's “hard to imagine” him botching Katrina response

Without noting the flaws critics have cited in Rudy Giuliani's supervision of the post-9-11 cleanup, Newsweek, in its cover story on the former mayor, baselessly suggested that "[i]t is hard to imagine" Giuliani “botching the response to Katrina in the way President Bush did.” Similarly, on MSNBC, the magazine's managing editor, Jon Meacham, echoed the article, saying, "[I]t's almost impossible to imagine a President Giuliani botching something like Katrina."

In a cover story for Newsweek's March 12 issue, senior writer and political correspondent Jonathan Darman baselessly asserted that "[i]t is hard to imagine" former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) “botching the response to Katrina in the way President Bush did,” without noting the flaws critics have cited in Giuliani's supervision of the post-9-11 cleanup. Darman also asserted as fact that Giuliani is “America's Mayor” and is “heroic.”

The Darman article further claimed that Giuliani is “always thriving at moments of crisis,” that “when the crises come, Giuliani has proved to be big enough,” and that, on September 11, 2001, Giuliani “was transformed into the man of destiny he'd seemed to always believe himself to be.” But as Media Matters for America has documented (here, here, and here), in their book, Grand Illusion: The Untold Story of Rudy Giuliani and 9/11 (HarperCollins, August 2006), Village Voice senior editor Wayne Barrett and senior producer Dan Collins expressed a very different view of Giuliani's conduct, arguing that Giuliani was responsible for terrorism-related failures before, during, and, after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Indeed, the article's statement that "[i]t is hard to imagine a President Giuliani botching the response to Katrina" ignores the problems Barrett and Collins alleged regarding the post 9-11 cleanup. Criticism of Giuliani's supervision of the cleanup effort began shortly after the attacks. In a February 2002 preliminary assessment, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) claimed that "[i]t appears at this point as if the bulk of these [environmental health] problems resulted from shortcomings" by the administration of Giuliani, who remained in office until Michael R. Bloomberg's inauguration on January 1, 2002. The NRDC charged that Giuliani's Department of Environmental Protection commissioner Joel Miele “did not fully exercise [his] authority” to respond to “emergencies caused by releases or threatened releases of hazardous substances,” and that “when it came to communicating about environmental health matters, city, state and federal efforts fell short of the mark.”

In their book, Barrett and Collins asserted that the cleanup at Ground Zero put workers' lives and health at excessive risk. The authors wrote that Giuliani's promise that the site “would be cleared in 180 days, a deadline in search of a reason ... meant that even after any chance of rescue was over, there was not so much as a discussion about reorganizing the cleanup around sounder health and safety standards” (page 260). In an endnote, the authors noted that “the mayor suggested that the rescue phase of the operation was over, but no change was made in the actual management of the site” on September 29, 2001, adding that “the city would 'conduct the operation in the same way' because 'we are doing the same thing we would do to recover someone alive as to recover human remains' ” (page 370, endnote 5).

Barrett and Collins also wrote that firefighters working on the site were not given adequate protection: "[A]ccording to the three doctors who ran the [New York City Fire Department's] Health Services Bureau, 70 percent of the firefighters 'had access to only a dust mask not approved for this type of exposure' on September 11. The same doctors said 82 percent of firefighters over the course of the early days were 'without respiratory protection,' some eschewing the inadequate masks they were given" (page 253).

In addition to the lack of gear, Barrett and Collins wrote about lax safety enforcement, suggesting that it “could have made all the difference” if there had been a “rapid introduction of the [safety] rules suggested by Bechtel, or any form of respirator enforcement with penalties” (page 261). Volunteer firefighter Dave O'Neal told the authors he received a notice of a fine for safety violations in March 2002 -- when O'Neal, who “had been working at the site for months,” said he learned of the environmental hazards associated with Ground Zero for the first time (page 265). Indeed, the site was “a toxic stew of smoke, carbon monoxide, pulverized cement, gypsum, PBCs, and other potentially lethal substances” (page 248). Barrett and Collins wrote that O'Neal has become “totally disabled” (page 266).

The results of the lack of safety standards at the site led to career-threatening illnesses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in conjunction with the Mount Sinai Medical Center, released a report based on a sample of workers and volunteers, who were involved in the rescue and recovery effort at Ground Zero. According to Barrett and Collins, "[n]early half had 'new and persistent respiratory problems,' such as coughing, shortness of breath, hoarseness, ear pain, or nosebleeds, said the Centers for Disease Control, which funded the program. ... About 10,000 people who worked in or around the site have applied for workers' compensation, claiming they had been left unable to work. That did not include the firefighters, about 320 of whom retired because of breathing problems" (page 268).

In several cases, these illnesses proved fatal. Barrett and Collins noted a September 4, 2005, Newsday article describing the death of emergency medical technician Timothy Keller as a result of “congestive heart failure” that Keller's friends and colleagues attributed to his work on September 11, 2001, and during the subsequent cleanup. On February 24, 2006, reported that “at least a dozen people who worked at Ground Zero have died of diseases attributed to the witch's brew of deadly chemicals and toxic substances that filled the air at the disaster site.”

On the March 5 edition of MSNBC's Imus in the Morning, Newsweek managing editor Jon Meacham echoed the Newsweek cover story, saying: “It's almost impossible to imagine a President Giuliani botching something like Katrina,” adding, as evidence for his claim, that Giuliani “would have been down there ... living there ... [h]aving, you know, hurricane drinks and, you know, doing it.” On the Feburary 6 edition of Imus, host Don Imus touted Giuliani because “it might be good to start with somebody who is willing to take three big ones and drop one on Mecca, one on Jeddah, and one on Saudi -- one on Riyadh,” all cities in Saudi Arabia, as Media Matters noted.

Media critic and blogger Greg Sargent reported that Barrett said that the Newsweek article was “an application for access” to Giuliani's potential presidential campaign, asserting that a “serious magazine like Newsweek shouldn't refuse to ask any questions about what happened that day [9-11] ... If Newsweek just rolls over and bows to myths, they will help make him President.”

The main page of Newsweek's website referred to Giuliani as “heroic yet hard-edged.” As Media Matters has documented, media figures have demonstrated a pattern of uncritically hyping Giuliani as the “hero of 9/11” while ignoring allegations that Giuliani was responsible for terrorism-related failures before, during, and after the 9-11 attacks.

In its cover story, Newsweek asserted that, on September 11, 2001, " 'America's Mayor' steeled the country by speaking the terrible truth" that there would be many deaths. Additionally, the “photo gallery” accompanying the article repeatedly referred to Giuliani as “America's Mayor.” Indeed, next to one picture, the caption read: “Admirers dubbed Giuliani 'America's Mayor,' ” which Newsweek used as a moniker for Giuliani without noting that it is a term preferred by the former mayor's "[a]dmirers." Media Matters has noted (here, here, here, here, here, and here) that media figures have repeatedly touted Giuliani's reputation as "America's Mayor" despite the numerous controversies that have marked Giuliani's political career.

As Media Matters noted, in its cover story, Newsweek also falsely suggested that, unlike Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Giuliani has not strongly supported Bush's plan to increase U.S. troop levels in Iraq.

From Newsweek's cover story on Giuliani:

His remarks were dramatic, which was fitting, since Giuliani has always been a man of drama, always thriving at moments of crisis. Growing up in the Long Island suburbs of New York in the placid 1950s, he would close the door to his bedroom and listen to Italian operas, in which each song contained a challenge, a confession or a choice. As a college student he read the words of Winston Churchill, perhaps dreaming that he, too, might one day feel as though he were “walking with Destiny.” For a pudgy, Brooklyn-born undergraduate at Manhattan College, his aspirations seemed somewhat outlandish. Sometimes they still do. In his daily interactions, Giuliani can be arrogant, abrasive and imperious, an average-size man trying too hard to prove himself a giant.

But when the crises come, Giuliani has proved to be big enough. New York City was crime-ridden with a dwindling middle class when he became mayor in 1994. By the millennium, the city was safe, swaggering -- and the envy of much of the nation. On 9/11, with the president hidden from view, “America's Mayor” steeled the country by speaking the terrible truth: “The number of casualties will be more than any of us can bear.” Now, with the war in Iraq in chaos and Al Qaeda still unvanquished, he is pitching himself to Republican primary voters as the man destined to steady the party and the nation in a time of trial.

The Republicans will require some convincing. Giuliani is a social moderate running in a party dominated by Christian conservatives; he supports gay rights and gun control, and hopes to be his party's first pro-choice presidential nominee since Gerald Ford more than 30 years ago. His tenure at city hall -- in which he donned fishnet stockings to dance alongside the Rockettes and sauntered for the press corps as a pink-chiffon-clad Marilyn Monroe -- is a case study in why no New York City mayor has gone on to higher office since 1868.

Yet with their party in turmoil after the disastrous 2006 midterm elections, some conservatives seem willing to overlook the mayor's colorful past. After a slow start, Giuliani's candidacy has gained ground in recent weeks, thanks in part to former front runner John McCain's staunch advocacy for escalating the troop presence in Iraq and the emerging impression that none of the top-tier candidates (Giuliani, McCain, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney) is a true believer on social issues. In the new NEWSWEEK Poll, Giuliani leads McCain by 25 points (59 to 34 percent) as the choice of registered Republicans and voters leaning Republican for the party's nomination, while Romney trails both men by more than 30 points.


And then came the cold horror of September 11. In those morning and midday hours Giuliani was transformed into the man of destiny he'd seemed to always believe himself to be. Some New Yorkers will remember that awful day as a sheer struggle for survival, a crazed exodus from lower Manhattan. Others will recall the frantic search for a loved one feared to be in one of the towers or on one of the doomed planes. But when the vast majority of Americans look back on 9/11, they will, for the ages, think of Giuliani walking through ash and soot. He was honest, sad and strong; he was heroic. Alone that night, before going to bed, he read Churchill's May 1940 speech to the House of Commons: I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.

September 11 made Giuliani untouchable. Queen Elizabeth named him an honorary knight. French President Jacques Chirac called him “Rudy the Rock.” He became a fixture at Republican rallies around the country in the elections of 2002, 2004 -- the year the GOP convention came to Madison Square Garden -- and 2006. Once reviled by his party for his moderate views, he leapt to the top of opinion polls of potential 2008 Republican nominees.


Will conventional considerations -- that is, the ordinary expectations voters have of presidential candidates -- apply to Giuliani, or does 9/11 loom so large in the national consciousness even now that Americans will give the mayor a pass on the temperament question in favor of a man who is both strong and competent? (It is hard to imagine a President Giuliani botching the response to Katrina in the way President Bush did.)

The numbers may be strong now, but as British Prime Minister Harold Wilson used to say, a week is an eternity in politics, much less a year. At the event last month in South Carolina, Giuliani looked unsteady as he fielded questions on jobs, immigration and free trade. He still seems un-comfortable when coaxed off his national-security script. But no one knows better than Giuliani that every day is not 9/11, and while the crises of a campaign may seem inane, they are far from inconsequential. In the coming months, there will be a million small disasters -- ways to falter or chances to become a man of destiny once more.

From the March 5 edition of MSNBC's Imus in the Morning:

MEACHAM: And I think they want to know: A -- who's going to keep them safe? B -- are they going -- is that person going to keep them safe without, as John Quincy Adams said, going out in search of monsters to destroy and starting wars that are not executed well? And third -- if a hurricane hits, who's going to fix it, you know, both literally and figuratively? And it's almost impossible to imagine a President Giuliani botching something like Katrina.

IMUS: That was a -- that was a great line in that piece in Newsweek, so -- that just -- that exact line -- must have been where you got that, right?

MEACHAM: I get all my best stuff from Newsweek.

IMUS: But, I mean, you're right. It is -- it is impossible to imagine that he would have screwed up that.

MEACHAM: He would have been down there with that windbreaker, living there, you know --

IMUS: Yes.

MEACHAM: -- having, you know, hurricane drinks and, you know, doing it.

IMUS: Yeah, I know. I like the guy, so I don't know if America will like him, but I like him, so.

MEACHAM: Well --

IMUS: Well, I like McCain, too, but what's happened?