The L.A. Times web site is trumpeting a story titled Bush Is Warned on Katrina in Video. I suspect that this will be Page One in the print edition this morning. The story dishonestly reports the facts to try to make President Bush seem like a liar:
The edited video, released by Associated Press, shows Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami, briefing state and federal officials — including Chertoff and Michael D. Brown, then director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency — on Aug. 28. Bush was at his Texas ranch and participated by videophone.
Mayfield tells the officials he wants “to make it absolutely clear to everyone that there is potential for large loss of life … in the coastal areas from the storm surge,” and emphasizes that there is a “very, very grave concern” about the ability of the levees that separated Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans to stand up against the storm.
On Sept. 1, Bush said on ABC’s “Good Morning America”: “I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees.”
The part of the quotation I have bolded is dishonest in the extreme. It is designed to suggest that Bush was warned beforehand that the levees might be breached — and therefore lied when he said that nobody anticipated the breach of the levees.
But the “very, very grave concern” referred to in the video is not whether the levees would “stand up against the storm” (i.e. whether or not they would be breached), but whether they would be topped. Let’s go to the transcript, which (inconveniently for The Times) dispels the dark suggestion that BushLied™. You can read what Mayfield actually said at page 6 of the transcript:
I don’t think any model can tell you with any confidence right now whether the levies [sic] will be topped or not, but that’s obviously a very, very grave concern.
Whether levees were going to “stand up against the storm” — in other words, whether they are going to be breached — is a very different question from whether levees are going to be overtopped by flooding. As John Hinderaker and Dafydd ab Hugh have already observed about the AP story on the video, there is a big difference between the levees being overtopped and the levees breaking. Let me quote Dafydd on the related AP story:
[T]he video footage shows no such warning, either inside or outside the meeting, that Katrina might “breach levees.”
The video shows one person . . . warning that people could be in danger if the levees were “overtopped.” Overtopping is not breaching, as common sense and English as our primary language should tell us.
The distinction is critical, because Bush never said nobody anticipated that the levees might be overtopped. He said nobody anticipated the breach of the levees — a much more serious event.
As I have already said, I believe some people did indeed anticipate the breach of the levees beforehand. I was not pleased with Bush’s statement when he made it.
But this video adds nothing to the story. And the L.A. Times (and the AP) have to completely distort what is said in the video to make it sound like news.
Far from showing us that Bush lied, today’s story tells us that L.A. Times editors and reporters are willing to lie to their readers.
UPDATE: Dafydd’s inaccurate reference to Max Mayfield as a “TV weatherman” in one of the above quotes has been removed with ellipses. I never meant to endorse that part of the quote, but I think it’s better to simply remove it entirely to make that clear.
UPDATE x3: Thanks also to Lucianne Goldberg for the link.
UPDATE x4 [3-3-06]: A debate is raging in the comments concerning the distinction between overtopping and breaching, with lefties straining hard to equate the two, but failing. I’m no expert in this area, but from the materials I have seen, it appears to me that overtopping can (but need not) cause an eventual breach, depending on the circumstances. This does not mean that overtopping is the same as breaching — they are different concepts with different consequences, again depending on the particular circumstances of the flooding event. Reinforcing the point is the star of the video discussed above, Max Mayfield, in this NBC report from yesterday:
Today, Mayfield told NBC News that he warned only that the levees might be topped, not breached, and that on the many conference calls he monitored, “Nobody talked about the possibility of a levee breach or failure until after it happened.”
Thanks to commenter MayBee for the link.
UPDATE x5: Thanks to Hugh Hewitt for linking this post.
I’d like to note a New York Times story from September 2:
[O]n Thursday, disaster experts and frustrated officials said a crucial shortcoming may have been the failure to predict that the levees keeping Lake Pontchartrain out of the city would be breached, not just overflow.
. . . .
“We knew if it was going to be a Category 5, some levees and some flood walls would be overtopped,” [Army Corps of Engineers deputy district engineer Greg Breerwood] said. “We never did think they would actually be breached.”
Just more support for the proposition that the L.A. Times‘s characterization is garbage. Under any rational reading, a failure to “stand up” means breaching — but that’s not what Bush was warned about.
Even the AP is no longer pretending that breaching and overtopping are the same thing . . .