The clampdown

Is the Bush administration trying to lock the press out of New Orleans? Can Scott McClellan answer a simple question?

By T.g.

Published September 8, 2005 12:51PM (EDT)

It's a time-honored tactic of the Bush administration: If you don't like the news, find some way to hide it. The administration has buried unhappy employment statistics, canceled an unhelpful report on federal funding and deep-sixed discouraging numbers on global terrorism. Last month, the administration demoted a Justice Department official who refused to remove data on racial disparities in police stops from a news release about a study on ... racial disparities in police stops.

But can you hide an entire city?

Over at Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall suggests that the administration is trying. "At first the evidence was scattered and anecdotal," he says. "But now it's pretty clear that a key aim of the Bush administration's takeover of the NOLA situation is to cut off press access to report the story."

To be fair, the evidence is still scattered and anecdotal, but there's beginning to be a lot of it.

As we noted yesterday, FEMA has said that it won't allow the news media to photograph dead bodies. Marshall points us to a blog post from NBC's Brian Williams, who tells of a National Guard sergeant ordering a camera crew to back away from troops setting up near a Brooks Brothers store in New Orleans and an out-of-town cop who aimed her weapon at a group of journalists. Williams writes: "Someone else points out on television as I post this: The fact that the National Guard now bars entry (by journalists) to the very places where people last week were barred from leaving (the Convention Center and Superdome) is a kind of perverse and perfectly backward postscript to this awful chapter in American history."

Meanwhile, the blog Operation Flashlight has this report: "We are in Jefferson Parish, just outside of New Orleans. At the National Guard checkpoint, they are under orders to turn away all media. All of the reporters are turning their TV trucks around."

Meanwhile, back at the White House, Scott McClellan is doing his part to shut down any questions about the government's response to Katrina. For the second day in a row, he trotted out his "blame game" and "finger-pointing" talking points Wednesday. It was reminiscent, at times, of McClellan's performance on the days after it became clear that Karl Rove was involved in the outing of Valerie Plame. Here's one bit of Wednesday's back-and-forth:

Reporter: Scott, does the president retain confidence in his FEMA director and secretary of Homeland Security?

McClellan: And again, David, see, this is where some people want to look at the blame game issue, and finger-point. We're focused on solving problems, and we're doing everything we can --

Reporter: What about the question?

McClellan: We're doing everything we can in support --

Reporter: We know all that.

McClellan: -- of the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA.

Reporter: Does he retain complete confidence --

McClellan: We're going to continue. We appreciate the great effort that all of those at FEMA, including the head of FEMA, are doing to help the people in the region. And I'm just not going to engage in the blame game or finger-pointing that you're trying to get me to engage.

Reporter: OK, but that's not at all what I was asking.

McClellan: Sure it is. It's exactly what you're trying to play.

Reporter: You have your same point you want to make about the blame game, which you've said enough now. I'm asking you a direct question, which you're dodging.

McClellan: No --

Reporter: Does the president retain complete confidence in his director of FEMA and secretary of Homeland Security, yes or no?

McClellan: I just answered the question.

Reporter: Is the answer "yes" on both?

McClellan: And what you're doing is trying to engage in a game of finger-pointing --

Reporter: There's a lot of criticism. I'm just wondering if he still has confidence.

McClellan: -- and blame-gaming. What we're trying to do is solve problems, David. And that's where we're going to keep our focus.

Reporter: So you're not -- you won't answer that question directly?

McClellan: I did. I just did.

Reporter: No, you didn't. Yes or no? Does he have complete confidence or doesn't he?

McClellan: No, if you want to continue to engage in finger-pointing and blame-gaming, that's fine --

Reporter: Scott, that's ridiculous. I'm not engaging in any of that.

McClellan: It's not ridiculous.

Reporter: Don't try to accuse me of that. I'm asking you a direct question and you should answer it. Does he retain complete confidence in his FEMA director and secretary of Homeland Security, yes or no?

McClellan: Like I said, that's exactly what you're engaging in.

Reporter: I'm not engaging in anything. I'm asking you a question about what the president's views are --

McClellan: Absolutely -- absolutely --

Reporter: -- under pretty substantial criticism of members of his administration. OK? And you know that, and everybody watching knows that as well.

McClellan: No, everybody watching this knows, David, that you're trying to engage in a blame game.

Reporter: I'm trying to engage?

McClellan: Yes.

Reporter: I am trying to engage?

McClellan: That's correct.

By T.g.


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