Thursday, September 29, 2005

"Think Progress" and Revisionist History

"Non-partisan" blog Think Progress posted a hit piece against FEMA, Michael Brown and basically the entire federal government a few days ago. The piece was first brought to my attention over at the Confederate Yankee's, where he fisked the offending article. I don't need to address the other two points in TP's hit piece since they were adequately questioned by Confederate Yankee, but #2 bothered me a bit.

Now, talking about revisionist history:

BROWN CLAIM: FEMA Was Stretched Beyond It Capabilities

“Mr. Chairman, this event stretched FEMA beyond its capabilities. There'’s no question about that. It did it in several ways. One is FEMA, over the past several years, has lost a lot of manpower. At one point during my tenure, because of assessments by the Department of Homeland Security, FEMA has lost -— at one point, we were short 500 people in an organization of about 2,500. You do the math. That'’s pretty significant… FEMA has suffered from the inability to grow to meet the demands.

FACT: Brown Said FEMA Had All The Manpower It Needed

BLITZER: Are you ready? Is FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, ready to deal with this new hurricane?
BROWN: We absolutely are. We have all the manpower and resources we need. President Bush has been a very great supporter of FEMA. [CNN, 9/26/04]

That is excerpted, verbatim, from the Think Progress article. The bolded date is the part that caught my attention when reading over at CY's. 2004? Could it be some typo that didn't get through the "lax fact checking" process that the MSM lords over bloggers? Or something more sinister? Was TP (heh) deliberately cherry-picking comments to slander a government official? Had they deliberately placed an assertive quote out of context to strengthen their argument? Let's find out...

A simple Google search of "hurricane history" helped me begin. Checking in at the #1 returned source, the National Hurricane Center, I quickly surveyed the list of named storms, and began to check if any of them matched the date of September 26, 2004. I wonder if this is how real editors and writers start?

There were 4 hurricanes listed for 2004, which was a particularly rough year for Florida. Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne, in chronological order. One of them fit the time frame. Hurricane Jeanne made landfall near Stuart, FL on 9/26/04. The very same date I had come to suspect for other reasons. Now, this storm came ashore only weeks after Frances hit the region, and the area was in the process of being surveyed, relieved and rebuilt, much as Mississippi and New Orleans are now. It stands to reason then that FEMA would have boots on the ground in the area, and invariably would have issued a press release of some kind, right? Yup. They issued several, in fact, pertaining to Hurricane Jeanne, which was a declared disaster at that time.

One thing I've noticed with all declared disasters - the media wants to talk to the head guys behind the response, get the skinny, get the scoop, the 411...ok, I'll stop. Well, it would stand to reason that they probably spoke to a senior FEMA official, like maybe the Director, Michael Brown. It was probably Wolf Blitzer, which would bring me all the way around to finding the erroneous quote from the Think Progress article. So I began searching CNN archives. And I searched, and searched. Damn it all, I give up! I need to get to class! I put it out of my mind and left the story behind the quote to fester in the internet wasteland.

Someone saw that Confederate Yankee noticed the article, and that I noticed the mysterious quote in CY's comments. Stephen at Nothing Could Be Finer sent me an email this afternoon to inform me that he was on the case! He'd managed to track down the transcript, too! Huzzah!

From that transcript that was so graciously supplied, here is the exchange between Blitzer and Brown in its entirety:
Joining us now from Miami, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Michael Brown.

Mr. Brown, thanks, as usual, for joining us.

First of all, the big picture. How devastating is this?

MICHAEL BROWN, DIRECTOR, FEMA: Well, it's devastating to everyone that's in the path of the storm, Wolf. When you think about it, there are some folks in Florida who have been hit one, two, and possibly three times. Four hurricanes throughout this state means that there are a lot of people suffering. We've gone from what I worried about: hurricane amnesia, to now hurricane fatigue.

BLITZER: Are you ready? Is FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, ready to deal with this new hurricane?

BROWN: We absolutely are. We have all the manpower and resources we need. President Bush has been a very great supporter of FEMA.
He's assured me we'll get all the resources we need to respond as Hurricane Jeanne now makes her way up through those other states that will be impacted just like Florida has been.

BLITZER: Charley, Frances, Ivan, now Jeanne. I suspect FEMA's still deeply engaged in dealing with those three earlier hurricanes, let alone this one, which is still unfolding. Is that true?

BROWN: That's true and that's one of the frustrating things that's going on right now is we move into an area to do our recovery efforts. And we have to pull back because we don't want our workers to becomes. So we have to relocate them and then move them back in after the storm. The other thing that's happening which is very frustrating at times is we might start clearing out debris in one area, not be quite finished clearing out the debris, and then the storm blows in, spreads the debris all over the place again.

BLITZER: How much money are we talking about, the damage so far, certainly the damage before Jeanne?

BROWN: Well, clearly billions of dollars. We've been so busy doing our response and recovery efforts trying to get assistance to folks in Florida and all up and down the east coast that we haven't tallied it up yet.

But we know we've already registered through these four storms about 400,000 victims or more. We've already dispersed just to individuals well over half a billion dollars. So you can see that when you count that, plus just the economic damage and the business losses and everything else, these are very, very costly storms.

BLITZER: When you do your annual budgets and you worry about hurricanes, natural disasters, Mr. Brown, did you forecast anything along these lines?

BROWN: No, we did not. We normally have -- we have a pretty steady budget figure we use every year that's just based on a 10-year average plus one big storm. This year, we need to change that budget average, increase it, and start counting for three or four big storms.

BLITZER: Michael Brown, the director of FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, good luck to you, all the men and women who work with you. Thanks very much for all your good work.

BROWN: Thank you.
Notice the exchange in bold - the very quote that TP used to substantiate their claim that FEMA slacked off in response to Katrina and "prove" that Brown thought they had enough confidence and manpower to manage the aftermath. Notice it pertains to Hurricane Jeanne, not to Katrina or Rita for that matter. Notice it has nothing to do with a mismanaged crisis, but in fact demonstrates the competence of FEMA and Director Brown. The quote is very obviously cherry picked from this transcript, lifted out of context for other than noble purposes. Yes, Director Brown was confident that they had enough manpower and resources to deal with a CAT 2 storm in a region where many resources were already in place! What a bastard, right? Stating the truth and dare he?

I guess TP's original assertation "Today, answering questions before a special congressional panel set up to investigate Katrina, Michael Brown tried to resuscitate his reputation. The facts didn'’t back him up so Brown engaged in some revisionist history," wasn't quite accurate.

In fact, you could say that it is revisionist history of another kind.

It would have made Dan Rather proud. Facts: When they don't support your opinion, make them up.