The phone call that wasn't

Bush administration allies claim the president called the mayor of New Orleans to urge an evacuation.

Published September 8, 2005 12:02AM (EDT)

Salon editorial fellow Aaron Kinney looks at the latest rumor to carom through the conservative echo chamber.

The most recent tack by conservatives defending President Bush's response to Hurricane Katrina has been to pin the blame for the fiasco on state and local officials. As part of that effort, some commentators are saying that in the run-up to the storm, President Bush was so upset with New Orleans officials' preparations that he personally called Ray Nagin, the city's mayor, to urge an evacuation of the city.

The problem with that assertion? It's dead wrong. Media Matters for America has reverse-engineered the rumor -- which was repeated by Bob Williams in the Wall Street Journal and Brit Hume on Fox News, among others -- and traced it back to its source. According to Media Matters, an Associated Press story on the evacuation neglected to mention when Bush's call took place or whom he called. From there the story made its way onto conservative blogs like Power Line, and it was off and running. But it turns out that the president called Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco, not Mayor Nagin, and that the conversation occurred just prior to a joint press conference at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 28, called by the governor and mayor to announce the evacuation. So Bush didn't prompt the evacuation order so much as second it.

But don't take our word for it. Here's how White House spokesman Scott McClellan described the call in his briefing today: "And the president, if you'll recall, on Sunday morning, was in touch with Governor Blanco ... he spoke to Governor Blanco around 9 a.m., had a good conversation with her about some of the things that needed to be done ahead of the hurricane hitting the Gulf Coast."

This is the second time the right-wing spin corps has been caught in the act since Hurricane Katrina. Over the weekend, the Washington Post and Newsweek were snookered by the White House into writing, falsely, that Gov. Blanco was delinquent in declaring a state of emergency for Louisiana. (The Post issued a correction; Newsweek has not.)

With the facts getting this mixed up, what we need is a timeline that lays out step by step how the crisis developed. Luckily, there are several, as Think Progress, AlterNet and Talking Points Memo have all posted lists that detail how the calamity unfolded. Call it the Rove Patrol.

By Aaron Kinney

Aaron Kinney is a writer in San Francisco. He has a blog.

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