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Monday, September 26, 2005

Broussard's Petard

Over the weekend Aaron Broussard made a return appearance on Meet The Press (transcript here). Tim Russert played the clip of the story Broussard told last time about the calls from the nursing home day after day and the federal failure to send help. But this is not what happened. The people trapped in St. Rita's apparently died on the same day that Katrina struck, Monday the 29th. There were no calls, no pleas to the feds, no broken promises to get in there to save these people:
Mr. Russert: ...that our viewers see that again because MSNBC and other blog organizations have looked into the facts behind your comments and these are the conclusions, and I´ll read it for you and our viewers. It says: "An emotional moment and a misunderstanding. Since the broadcast of [Meet the Press] interview...a number of bloggers have questioned the validity of Broussard´s story. Subsequent reporting identified the man whom Broussard was referring to...as Thomas Rodrigue, the Jefferson Parish emergency services director. ...Rodrigue acknowledged that his 92-year-old mother and more than 30 other people died in the St. Rita nursing home. They had not been evacuated and the flood waters overtook the residence. ... When told of the sequence of phone calls that Broussard described, Rodrigue said `No, no, that´s not true. ...I contacted the nursing home two days before the storm [on Saturday, Aug. 27th] and again on [Sunday] the 28th. ...At the same time I talked to the nursing home I had also talked to the emergency manager...to encourage that nursing home to evacuate...´ Rodrigue says he never made any calls after Monday, the day he figures his mother died... Officials believe the residents of St. Rita´s died on Monday, the 29th, not on Friday, Sept. 2, as Broussard has suggested."
Broussard launches into a wild series of accusations and evasions in response. BayouBuzz.com lists the most relevant portions of the transcript. Among other things, Broussard resorts to a "fake but accurate" riff:
Were we abandoned by the federal government? Absolutely we were. Were there more people that abandoned us? Make the list. The list can go on for miles. That's for history to document. That's what Congress does best, burn witches. Let Congress do their hearings. Let them find the witches. Let them burn them. The media burns witches better than anybody. Let the media go find the witches and burn them. But as I stood on the ground, sir, for day after day after day after day, nobody came here, sir. Nobody came. The federal government didn't come. The Red Cross didn't come.
Well, as for the Red Cross, it was there but it didn't come inside the city. It says that the local officials wouldn't let them in, and the local officials say that they didn't want to come in. Now DU agrees with Broussard's response:
Timmy is pointing to MSNBC and bloggers that challenged the story that the feds failed to rescue his employee's momma. They say it was local, not the feds, who failed momma.

Broussard is basically: what kind of sick fuck (he used the word "blackhearted")would waste time nitpicking the details of an old woman's death in the wake of this disaster? I was obviously very emotional at the time. The bottom line is the feds WERE NOT HERE, period. THEY WERE NOT HERE.

I agree with Broussard completely. The man was an emotional wreck, and everybody knows the feds were out to lunch on this. What kind of mind sees the original Broussard interview and says, "you know, I bet that's not right. Let me investigate and determine exactly which person let the woman drown, in an effort to discredit Broussard?"
Someone who cared about those people in the nursing home? The only thing that could have saved them would have been being evacuated before Katrina hit on Monday, August 29th. That's the day they think they died, and that's the day that St. Bernard parish flooded. American Politics Journal agrees also:
Broussard was assertive as all get-out as he totally demolished Russert — the Jefferson Parish Mayor made his point forcefully and effectively, and refused to become a victim of Russert's sleazy ambush tactics.

And Russert inadvertently exposed the sloppy tactics of MSNBC: they'll gladly parrot right-wing bloggers out to smear a local official who tried his best in the face of a massive natural catastrophe, but won't even bother to contact him to get his side of the story.

MSNBC's story was not journalism. It was media McCarthyism.

It's time for Tim Russert, MSNBC president Rick Kaplan, NBC president Nathaniel Padilla, Wuzzadem and Powerline blog to issue a public apology to Aaron Broussard.
No, it isn't. Powerline did write about this story, but it was after MSNBC had published its own correction, which was inevitable once the nursing home owners were indicted:
The husband and wife owners of St. Rita’s nursing home in the New Orleans suburb of Chalmette have been charged with homicide in the case.

“The pathetic thing in this case was that they were asked if they wanted to move them and they did not,” Louisiana Attorney General Charles Foti said Tuesday. “They were warned repeatedly that this storm was coming. In effect, their inaction resulted in the deaths of these people.”

“They had a duty and a standard of care to people who could not care for themselves,” Foti said of the owners. “If you or I decided we are going to stay, we do it of our own free will. ... The people at the nursing home don’t have that choice.”

“Thirty-four people drowned in a nursing home when it should have been evacuated. I cannot say it any plainer than that,” Foti said, his voice rising with anger.
Naturally reporters were going to follow up on such a sensational story, especially after the nursing home owners were indicted. Do the facts mean nothing? Does preventing such avoidable deaths in the future mean nothing? What good is all of this emotion unless it is converted into a determination to figure out how we can prevent this in the future? This is an important story, because evacuating nursing homes and hospitals places the fragile evacuees at risk. People do die when such evacuations are done, which is one reason why the nursing home owners were probably reluctant to do so.

I don't understand how these people demanding an apology from Russert for publicizing the truth are thinking, and I don't want to. Maybe it is contagious. This is beginning to sound way too much like those MEMRI translations which are just rants about how the Jews are evil. When a society loses the ability to ground its internal debate on facts, it loses the ability to govern itself.

These people are a mob, not a political movement. I don't feel that they deserve respect. I can sympathize with the owners of the nursing home, who probably knew that they would be killing several people if they evacuated them in regular buses. They were facing a nasty choice, and they surely hoped that the levees would hold. I can sympathize somewhat with Broussard, because he is under pressure and no doubt laboring under his own feelings of guilt, although I think it is terribly wrong to bow to his tactics.

I can't sympathize with those who are attempting to suppress the truth here. I think they should be mocked, excoriated, blasted, exposed and countered with facts. There are plenty of well-founded criticisms of FEMA available, and those criticisms should be made. There are valid questions to be asked about why bureaucracy seemed to trump life-saving. Such questions will advance the cause of saving lives. But this? This is nothing but the most demeaning, useless, democracy-destroying barrage of misinformation I have ever witnessed. If we ever permit this mindset to triumph we are doomed.

To the extent that the Democratic party seems to adopt this strategy of emotion conferring more validity than facts, my fear of it grows. I'm writing all this because of all the nonsensical blather about Roberts the legal robot in his confirmation hearings, because of what appears to be a coverup of the Able Danger story, and because of all of the political in-fighting about how to handle the refugees. We can't permit political strategy to trump reason and a respect for human life and freedom.

One of my grandfathers escaped Germany and then Europe before World War II. In WWI he was drafted and served in the Germany army. In WWII he volunteered for the US army at the age of 42, already having had one heart attack, and spent years in the Pacific. This is the sort of thing he feared so greatly and that he decided to fight against then.

He went back to France and Germany decades after WWII, and when he came back he said that they had learned nothing and that they never would. Both he and my father insisted that it could happen here, and that we should always be vigilant against it. Well, it's here. The question is "Will it win?"

I don't intend to let it win. Once the lies and the emotion are allowed to stand as credible, the battle is over. Once it becomes impossible to counter the lies, it becomes impossible to improve your circumstances. Then the demagogues rise, and the deaths begin.

Superb post, really.

The fact remains that reality has become a option- to be used when necessary and disregarded as needed.

In the end, reality has a way of rising to the top.

It was Dan Rather that had to go- not the bloggers who told it like it was. The media learned well from that episode- you can only fight reality for so long. After the next election, even the DUer's will come to that lightbulb moment.

So long, Broussard.
After the next election, even the DUer's will come to that lightbulb moment.

Maybe. But I doubt it. I think the best we can hope for is that their sphere of influence shrinks but I'm not exactly hopeful of that. It's just that entirely too many people that I normally consider to be reasonable respond to thoughtful disagreement and questions by attempting to change the topic.

Maybe I'll feel better when I, well, feel better.
I agree with Tommy. This mindset isn't just on the left, but it does seem to have found a nice home among the Communist sympathizers. They, after all, have never been able to deal with reality so they are preselected as a group which admires fanaticism and avoids reality.

To the extent that higher education became obsessed with political correctness and also propagated its mindset into the schools via teacher education programs, we have trained an entire generation not to be critical, skeptical thinkers.
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