George W. Bush will tour some of the storm-ravaged Gulf Coast today. But if he's expecting the grateful reception and glowing media coverage he got when he visited New York after 9/11, he's probably got another thing coming.
The current plan is for Bush to visit Mississippi but limit his New Orleans tour to a flyover; the Big Easy isn't safe for the president, physically or politically. Although there are some signs this morning that conditions may finally be improving in parts of New Orleans, much of the city remains in dire straits, and the rage over the government's response is growing. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said yesterday that state and federal officials need to stop having "goddamn press conferences" and get relief efforts moving. "We have an incredible crisis here and [the president's] flying over in Air Force One does not do it justice," Nagin said in a radio interview last night. "Excuse my French, everybody in America, but I am pissed."
Nagin said that federal officials "don't have a clue" about what's actually happening in New Orleans, and you could see why he'd think that. Appearing on CNN Thursday evening, FEMA Director Michael Brown said he thought things were going "reasonably well" in the city. The characterization came just a few hours after Nagin had issued a "desperate SOS" for help at the New Orleans convention center, on a day when FEMA had been forced to stop boat rescues for fear that its crews might be shot. CNN had just begun airing video of dead bodies in the streets.
Whatever federal officials were selling, the reporters who've been watching New Orleans weren't buying it. On CNN yesterday, Brown defended his agency's slow delivery of help to thousands of residents stranded at the convention center by saying that the federal government "did not even know about the convention center people until today." On ABC's "Nightline," an incredulous Ted Koppel asked Brown if FEMA staff didn't watch television: The networks have been reporting on the refugees at the convention center since Tuesday.
NPR's Robert Siegel seemed equally stunned Thursday when Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff suggested that the stories reporters were filing on conditions at the convention center amounted to a "rumor" that shouldn't be believed.
And as Joan Walsh notes in Salon today, CNN's Anderson Cooper laid into Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu when she used time on his show to start thanking government officials for their relief efforts. "Senator, I'm sorry," Cooper said. "For the last four days, I have been seeing dead bodies here in the streets of Mississippi, and to listen to politicians thanking each other and complimenting each other -- I have to tell you, there are people here who are very upset and angry, and when they hear politicians thanking one another, it just, you know, it cuts them the wrong way right now, because there was a body on the streets of this town yesterday being eaten by rats because this woman has been laying in the street for 48 hours, and there [are] not enough facilities to get her up. Do you understand that anger?"
Landrieu said that she was angry about the storm but that she wasn't angry at anyone. Cooper didn't let up. "Well, I mean, there are a lot of people here who are kind of ashamed of what is happening in this country right now, what is -- ashamed of what is happening in your state. And that's not to blame the people that are there, it is a terrible situation, but you know, who -- no one seems to be taking responsibility. I know you say there's a time and a place for kind of, you know, looking back, but this seems to be the time and the place. There are people that want answers, and people want someone to stand up and say: We should have done more."
Welcome to Louisiana, Mr. President.