Apparently Russert corrected the record yesterday regarding Broussard’s falsehoods (and I don’t mean to say they were intentional, but they were false, nonetheless) regarding his dramatic appearance on Meet the Press several weeks ago, and that has all sorts of people in a snit. My good friend John Amato at Crooks and Liars writes:
Tim Russert went on the attack today to please the right wing apologists who had the nerve to fact check his impassioned outburst on MTP during the nightmare of Katrina. (Update-fact checking is fine, but to me this was callous) When you don’t like what you hear-attack the messenger. Yes, you uncovered a distorted time line of events. A man who had experienced the pain of his friend’s mother’s death muddied the facts. Who did it hurt? All levels of government including the President and you can’t have that. What was the end result? A man’s mother died. She’s gone. You cretins. How do you sleep at night knowing that? What did your investigation prove? Aaron Broussard got the facts wrong in an emotional outburst on national television. Way to go.
Jeff Jarvis writes:
Too much of journalism is turning this way today: If we nitpick the facts and follow some rules some committee wrote up, we’ll be safe; we’re doing our jobs. No, sir, our job is to get more than the facts. Anybody can get facts. Facts are the commodity. The truth is harder to find. Justice is harder to fight for. Lessons are what we’re after.
Tim Russert lost sight of the story because he was embarrassed that bloggers caught a guest on his show with facts that were wrong. Russert’s proper response should have been to fix those facts quickly and clear but still pursue the real story. Instead, he chose to shoot the messenger who embarrassed him with the bloggers. He lost sight of his real mission.
Jeff links to David Weinberger, who writes:
It was an attempt to discredit the story’s teller in order to deny the story’s meaning. It was contemptible.
Hunh? I guess the brave new world of the blogosphere has moved from “We fact check your ass” to “We fact check your ass unless it spoils our narrative.” By these new “fake but accurate” standards, Dan Rather should ask for his job back.
Here are Broussard’s original claims:
Mr. Broussard: It’s not just Katrina that caused all these deaths in New Orleans here. Bureaucracy has committed murder here in the greater New Orleans area and bureaucracy has to stand trial before Congress now. It’s so obvious.
Mr. Russert: Hold on. Hold on, sir. Shouldn’t the mayor of New Orleans and the governor of New Orleans bear some responsibility? Couldn’t they have been much more forceful, much more effective and much more organized in evacuating the area?
Mr. Broussard: Sir, they were told, like me, every single day, “The cavalry is coming.” On the federal level, “The cavalry is coming. The cavalry’s coming. The cavalry’s coming.” The guy who runs this building I’m in, emergency management, he’s responsible for everything. His mother was trapped in St. Bernard Nursing Home and every day she called him and said, “Are you coming, son? Is somebody coming?” And he said, “Yeah, Mama. Somebody’s coming to get you. Somebody’s coming to get you on Tuesday.” “Somebody’s coming to get you on Wednesday.” “Somebody’s coming to get you on Thursday.” “Somebody’s coming to get you on Friday.” And she drowned Friday night. She drowned Friday night.
Mr. Russert: Mr. President…
Mr. Broussard: Nobody’s coming to get us. Nobody’s coming to get us. The secretary has promised. Everybody’s promised. They’ve had press conferences. I’m sick of the press conferences. For God sakes, shut up and send us somebody.
It was a scathing indictment of the federal government’s response, to claim that this woman was drowned because of a 5 day federal delay. And every aspect of the story is now confirmed to be inaccurate, except for the ultimate death of the woman. The owners of the nursing home have been charged. The feds, if you are to believe Broussard’s original version, abandoned this woman before the hurricane even happened. How about that for blowing the response?
In short, this story, this part of the record, this evidence- it has nothing to do with “an attempt to discredit the story’s teller in order to deny the story’s meaning,” but rather it had everything to do with getting things right.
We are about to completely remake the way the federal government plans for, responds to, and handles emergency management. There WILL be a push to militarize the entire federal response. There will be a push to replace state and local authorities with federal authorities. There will be a significant power grab by the feds, who don’t turn down opportunities to expand their own power and who don’t like being blamed for things beyond their control. And not all of this is going to be a good thing.
And a large part of the movement to engage in these power grabs and re-organizations was fueled by the hysteria immediately following the disaster, much of which has turned out to be false. Run down the checklist:
Did firemen fly across the country only to be used as props by Bush? Nope.
Did FEMA wait four days to do anything about people at the Convention Center, despite cable news broadcasting their presence for days? Nope.
An d just today, the Seattle Times has this story out about the reports of mass murders, rapes, etc., in the Superdome and Convention Center. In a word, those reports were bullshit:
After five days managing near riots, medical horrors and unspeakable living conditions inside the Superdome, Louisiana National Guard Col. Thomas Beron prepared to hand over the dead to representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Following days of internationally reported murders, rapes and gang violence inside the stadium, the doctor from FEMA — Beron doesn’t remember his name — came prepared for a grisly scene: He brought a refrigerated 18-wheeler and three doctors to process bodies.
“I’ve got a report of 200 bodies in the Dome,” Beron recalled the doctor saying.
The real total?
Six, Beron said.
Of those, four died of natural causes, one overdosed and another jumped to his death in an apparent suicide, said Beron, who personally oversaw the handoff of bodies from a Dome freezer, where they lay atop melting bags of ice.
State health department officials in charge of body recovery put the official death count at the Dome at 10, but Beron said the other four bodies were found in the street near the Dome, not inside it. Both sources said no one had been murdered inside the stadium.
At the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, just four bodies have been recovered, despite reports of heaps of dead piled inside the building. Only one of the dead appeared to have been murdered, said health and law-enforcement officials.
Yet another set of stories, taken to be true, that whipped up outrage about the ‘failed response’ to Katrina. And yet again, it turns out to be nonsense. Yes, people were miserable for a few days. Yes, they were hungry. Yes, they were upset. But Treblinka this was not, and the media, which has gone out of its way to self-congratulate for their coverage, has dropped the ball again.
So what did Russert do that was so terrible? Correcting the record? Maybe he could have been more artful and more tactful. Joe Gandelman writes:
He COULD have gone after correction of the facts as Jarvis says — “quickly and clear.” But he seemed to want to not just fix the facts but discredit the source and lose sight of the big picture story.
In providing infotainment — by going after and decimating his onetime star guest, by showing pit-bull persistence on the inaccuracies of and producing a good, confrontational, “hot talk” TV segment — he succeeded.
I think Joe is missing the ‘big picture story,’ here. The big picture story, if you will, is that while there were mistakes in the response, things are, over and over and over again, not turning out the way they were initially reported. And unless Joe, Jeff, and everyone else wants to move forward without the whole story, the truthful aspects of the story, and rush to embrace this new ‘fake but accurate’ method of looking at the ‘big picture,’ then they should just lay off Tim Russert on this.
All he did was get it right and make sure the rest of us did too.