Right-wing media reacted to presidential disaster response very differently when Obama was president

Conservative media's response to Trump's visit to Houston drastically differs from Obama's disaster relief visits

By Katie Sullivan
September 10, 2017 12:29PM (UTC)
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(Getty/Nicholas Kamm)

Right-wing media have been quick to praise President Donald Trump for his response to Hurricane Harvey and the aftermath, lauding his tweets as well as pictures released of him in meetings, claiming that “symbolism matters as well as the execution,” and attacking critics who have pointed out that Trump has done several highly political things during the hurricane that was downgraded to a tropical storm. The current tone of the conservative media sphere is a radical departure from the tone during disasters under former President Barack Obama’s tenure, when they claimed he was just doing “photo-ops,” said he was ineffective, and lambasted him for not visiting disaster areas immediately despite local officials asking him not to come so that resources could be spent helping victims.

Trump visited Texas during Harvey response and recovery, where he touted the crowd size during his comments

Trump traveled to Texas “to survey some of the damage” from Harvey. President Donald Trump visited Texas on August 29 as Tropical Storm Harvey continued to devastate Texas. According to The New York Times, Trump “traveled to storm-brushed Corpus Christi, Tex., on Tuesday to survey some of the damage caused by Tropical Storm Harvey and demonstrate his personal commitment to a region still in the grips of a historic natural disaster.” [The New York Times, 8/29/17]

During his visit, Trump “managed to turn attention on himself” and touted his crowd size. The Washington Post reported on August 29 that, during his visit, “Trump managed to turn attention on himself” and was “more focused on the power of the storm and his administration’s response than on the millions of Texans whose lives have been dramatically altered by the floodwaters.” And, according to the San Antonio Current, during the president’s visit to Corpus Christi, Trump highlighted the size of the crowd who came to see him, exclaiming, “What a crowd. What a turnout” and “failed to mention or acknowledge the 15 casualties, tens of thousands of displaced people, or irreversible damage as a result of the hurricane.” From the San Antonio Current’s August 29 article:

After the briefing, Trump spoke to a crowd of a hundred or so people waiting to see him. It is unclear if the audience of supporters showed up spontaneously, or if they had been organized prior to Trump's speech.

"What a crowd, what a turnout!" Trump said.

He failed to mention or acknowledge the 15 casualties, tens of thousands of displaced people, or irreversible damage as a result of the hurricane. Instead, his lax messaging alternated between commending state officials for their handling of the situation, and reassuring Texans things would be OK soon (contradicting what state and local officials have said thus far about a long road to recovery). [San Antonio Current, 8/29/17; The Washington Post, 8/29/17]

In the first days of Harvey, Trump and the White House tweeted and put out photos of a teleconference to show their engagement

White House released photos of Trump’s teleconference with cabinet members on Hurricane HarveyThe White House Office of the Press Secretary posted photos from Trump’s teleconference with his cabinet members about Hurricane Harvey on August 27. [WhiteHouse.gov, 8/27/17]

How right-wing media have reacted to Trump’s handling of Harvey

Right-wing media have reacted positively to Trump’s handling of the situation arising from Hurricane Harvey, lauding his tweets and pictures of him in meetings and defending some of the overtly political actions and statements he’s made while the hurricane and tropical storm hammered Texas. Fox News’ John Roberts saidthat Trump has "made a point of showing how engaged he was on Harvey" by "tweeting frequently about the storm" and by “releasing a photo of . . . a teleconference from Camp David,” Fox’s Sandra Smith said that pictures released by Trump and the White House show that he’s “keeping a hands-on approach,” and The Gateway Pundit claimed that the tweets “show[ed] true leadership.” Fox’s Brian Kilmeade added that “see[ing] the presence of the president” was important because “symbolism matters, as well as the execution.”

Pro-Trump media even defended Trump’s political statements and actions in the midst of the hurricane, including his promotion of the book of one political ally, his announcement that he was pardoning a different political ally (Joe Arpiao, the disgraced former Arizona sheriff who was convicted of defying a court order to stop racial profiling Latinos), and his tweet that he “won [Missouri] by a lot in ‘16.” Fox host Harris Faulkner mentioned, that “Harvey is not all [Trump] has been tweeting about,” and that “the president can tweet about whatever he wants.” Fellow Fox host Shannon Bream reacted to criticism of some of Trump’s tweets, asking, “Is this president going to get a break?” And Sean Hannity lashed out over criticism of the Arpaio pardon, claiming that the media “will never give the president a fair shot” and they “politicized immediately the president's decision when we were just two hours away from a hurricane.”

Following Trump’s visit to Corpus Christi, the praise continued. Fox host Jesse Watters lauded the president’s trip, saying he “gave a real shot of adrenaline to the crowd.” Watters continued, saying, “It wasn’t necessarily a visit where it’s ‘I feel your pain, I’m going to give you a shoulder to cry on.’ It was more cheerleading, let’s do this, let’s do this together, rah rah recovery.” Fox News contributor Mike Huckabee lashed out at the criticism of Trump’s speech in Corpus Christi, stating, “If Donald Trump got a drinking straw and personally sucked every drop of water out of the flood zones of Houston, the Democrats would say that he didn’t put the water back in the right place,” adding, “there’s nothing he’s ever going to do that’s going to satisfy these critics who hate him, who want him out of office.”

Katie Sullivan

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