Thursday, March 02, 2006

Deconstructing AP Tape - Overtopping vs Breaches

From Captain's Quarters -

March 02, 2006
"Katrina Tape Half-Story"

Most news agencies have reported on the
AP's tape of a meeting involving President Bush, Michael Brown, and a number of other FEMA officials and local and state politicians during Hurricane Katrina. In the tape, most of the reports claim, Bush specifically heard warnings about levees being breached. However, that's not what the tape shows, at least the portion aired by the AP and NBC on their broadcast last night (available at MS-NBC at the above link). What is does show is an expert saying to the group, "At this point, we don't know whether the levees will be overtopped or not."

As Dafydd ab Hugh at Big Lizards points out, breaching and overtopping are two very different events. Neither are particularly desirable, of course, but overtopping would result in the release of excess water from Lake Pontchatrain, while the breaches released an exponentially larger volume, resulting in far more devastation. No one in this clip mentions the word "breach" at all, and the breathless reporting at the AP winds up being highly misleading. It's used to indict the president, who later said that no one imagined that the levees would be breached -- and if this clip is as good as the media has, then apparently the president is right.
In fact, the record shows that the White House had been fully engaged in the disaster and had repeatedly asked for updates. Brown himself notes (and NBC did report this) that Bush had personally called him twice that day, and it was still only noon. The White House also followed the media reports closely, demanding to know whether the reported breaches had actually occurred. (The fact that the media could not be trusted to get the story straight was later proven when the hysterical reporting about cannibalism, murders, and toxic flood waters all turned out to be false.) What answer did the White House get? The local and state authorities told them that nothing had happened, and that the flooding so far had come from the storm itself and not the lake.
UPDATE: Power Line has more deconstruction of the AP report, including factual errors on when the National Guard arrived and more.

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