A Lack of Historical Perspective at The History Channel

I know it’s hard to make changes to an entire promotional campaign in the last couple of days before your event takes place, but I have to think that The History Channel should have relied on some of its alternative ads for their ROME: Engineering an Empire series this weekend. Specifically, the TV and radio spots that open with the phrase “Do you think that the first Superdome was opened in 1965?”

Poor, Picked-On Pentagon

From the second hour of CNN’s NewsNight With Aaron Brown (September 1); an interview with Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre:

BROWN: Yes, there were a couple of things actually said in there. I mean, on the one hand, I suppose – I understand when people say no one could have anticipated this, but the fact is that three years ago, two reporters to New Orleans Times Picayune laid out exactly this scenario.

That aside, I said introducing you that everything seems political to people these days. I know this will be perceived as a political question. It’s not meant that way. To what extent does the fact that there were 135,000 troops in Iraq and troops in Afghanistan, to what extent, if any, impact, the ability of the military, the Pentagon, to respond to this crisis?

MCINTYRE: Well, clearly, if all the troops – all the National Guard troops were in their home base, they could probably be mobilized a little bit easier. That said, we analyze this pretty carefully today. And we have to say that the impact seems to be very marginal.

The troops, for instance, from Louisiana that are deployed to Iraq are combat unit. They’re an armor infantry unit. They’re not the military police if they really need to help restore security.

And as to your question about political, I talked to a lot of people at the Pentagon today who were very frustrated about the fact that the perception was being created that the military didn’t move fast enough. And they did it somewhat as political. They thought that part of the motivation was the critics of the administration to make the president look bad.

And they seemed to question the motives of some of our reporters who were out there and hearing these stories from the victims about why they had so much sympathy for the victims, and not as much sympathy for the challenges that the government met in meeting this challenge.

And I have to say thinking about that, it doesn’t really seem all that unusual that you would tend to understand the plight of the victims a little more than the bureaucrats in Washington.

BROWN: Yes, I mean, I’m glad you told us that. And they have every right to believe they believe and think the way they think. I mean, and I mean that. But you’ve got people who have been living as refugees. It is not hard to understand why our first heart beat goes in their direction. We’ll worry about the bureaucrats later.

Jamie, thank you. That’s a tough beat you got. We’ll take a break. When we come back, we’ll have more from the Astrodome in Houston. That really does speak to – that’s a scene out of the Astrodome tonight. By the way, several thousand people there – what Jamie just said just speaks to how political events are perceived in this day and age. We got a lot of mail on these sorts of questions.

Over Here (Now On FX)

With apologies to Joy Press and the Village Voice

New Series Examines Katrina Quagmire While Avoiding Partisan Politics
Over Here

Wednesdays at 11 starting September 8 on FX

by Happy Drucker
September 3rd, 2005 3:54 AM

“I don’t think you have to deal at all with the politics of it,” Steven Bochco told Reuters about Over Here, the first drama series to take on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. A weaselly preemptive attempt to ward off criticism from administration apologists, no doubt, but it’s pretty strange to announce one’s intention to exclude politics in a portrait of an ongoing, furiously contested disaster. What that leaves is mostly a visceral experience of catastrophe. A squad of combat soldiers wanders around the swampy mist of New Orleans, filmed with a surprising visual lyricism that occasionally reminds me of Andrei Konchalovsky’s study of tyranny and freedom Shy People. The cameras sometimes seem to swoon with disorientation as these army privates march through the green fog of their night vision goggles or watch bodies moving toward them through a rainstorm. Plunked down in a strange place, they have no idea whom they’re fighting, whom they’re helping, or where they are.

Despite Bochco’s protestations that the show is apolitical, Over Here has a jaundiced air about it. A female soldier imagines herself as one of the flood victims stranded at the Convention Center. A likable central character gets shot by looters in the first episode, and the army forgets to inform his wife for almost a week. A whole squad waits outside a grocery store like sitting ducks, unable to attack the insurgents inside because of civilians with camcorders. “We’re going to wait . . . while some general 75 miles away makes a decision about goddamn public relations, about how it would look if we did this or how it would look if we did that!” shouts a sergeant. The series aims to evoke the horror and ambiguity of relief operations—one whole episode is dedicated to roadblock duty, with the rookies forced to decide among themselves whether to shoot potentially innocent people who bust through the checkpoint. It remains to be seen whether this kind of televisual “realism” will help us understand the disaster better, but the way things are going, Bochco should have enough grim material to last him many seasons.

New Orleans Lockdown

From CNN’s NewsNight With Aaron Brown:

BROWN (voice over): Through sheets of rain it is the slow exodus of the lucky ones, those who are getting out.

TIM SHEER, NEW ORLEANS EVACUEE: We walked, probably 200 people, about a two-hour trek. We got to the top of the bridge, they stopped us with shotguns.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Police were shooting guns to keep people from crossing the bridge getting out of the city.

BROWN: They were tourists trapped in a hotel in New Orleans. They thought they’d arranged a bus ride out of town.

This didn’t get nearly the comment that you’d have thought it might, particularly considering every member of the administration has been complaining that people were too stupid to get out of town. Now people who couldn’t leave before (their rented buses were apparently commandeered by the military) are shot at by cops to keep them penned in.

As an added note, Jamie McIntyre, CNN’s Pentagon correspondent reported that FEMA director Michael Brown said that relief efforts were going “relatively well” compared to those after last year’s tsunami. Geez, ya think? The US can handle rescue efforts within its own borders better than Sri Lanka and Indonesia can? I feel a lot better now.

Who Coulda Thunk?

In his September 1 press conference, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said:

The act of flooding and the continued challenge of dealing with water levels that can be anywhere from three to four to eight feet have dramatically impeded our ability to actually get these supplies into New Orleans. This has really created a double challenge. We’re not only confronting the original disaster of the hurricane, we’re confronting the ongoing disaster of the flooding.

Amazing. I mean, who would have thought you might have to do disaster relief in the middle of a flood?

What Does Bush Like to Talk About?

People tend to talk about what’s important and interesting to them. They talk about the subjects they know. When they venture into areas they’re unsure of, they tend to get vague and repeat stock phrases. You see that kind of thing happen at a funeral of someone where they put the second-string minister on duty or he hasn’t prepared. I was recently at one of those.

I also happened to catch the Rose Garden address by President Bush today. In 1,182 words — including some opening and closing statements, boilerplate resolve verbiage, and pleas for the private sector to bail out the South, he spent over a third of it (409 words, highlighted in gray below) talking about oil and gasoline, more than he spent on discussing saving lives, providing shelter, and supplying food (265 words, in yellow) or maintaining order (77 words, in red).

And we thought the Iraqis were just kidding about the Oil Ministry.

FOXnews.com: Laziness or Something Else?

As I noted yesterday, I got my chance to visit Old New Orleans just after it narrowly escaped Hurricane Ivan. Which is why, when I heard that President Bush told Diane Sawyer on Good Morning America “I don’t think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees” this morning, I was floored.

I quickly found an AP story reprinted on the Cincinnati Enquirer site that thoroughly disproves that.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

New Orleans may get 20-foot flood waters

By Brett Martel
The Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS – The worst-case scenario here – a direct strike by a full-strength Hurricane Ivan – could submerge much of this historic city treetop-deep in a stew of sewage, industrial chemicals and fire ants, and the inundation could last for weeks, experts say.

If the storm were strong enough, Ivan could drive water over the tops of the levees that protect the city from the Mississippi River and vast Lake Pontchartrain. And with the city sitting in a saucer-shaped depression that dips as much as 9 feet below sea level, there would be nowhere for all that water to drain.

I suppose someone who’s really dense would claim that driving water over the levee isn’t the same thing as breaching the levee, but then I suspect that person would never have heard of a levee breaking during a storm.

I was interested, however in what I found while looking for other sources of the AP story. I searched for the phrase “could submerge much of this historic city treetop-deep in a stew of sewage” in the second paragraph, and the first link on Google that showed up was from FOXnews.com, presumably a site that’s White House-approved.

The composite image above contains three windows (full captures of which are linked). At the top is a portion of the Google results window. At the lower right is what you get when you click on the link. And at the lower left is Google’s cached version of the page.

Google’s link says it points to a report about Hurricane Ivan (which shows up in the excerpted text on the search results page). But the page it links to now has a date of August 29, 2005. The cached article has a date of September 15, 2004.

Several paragraphs of the 2004 article are missing from the 2005 version, but the remainder is virtually identical except for the deletion of a reference to Hurricane Ivan in the first paragraph and a couple of minor wording changes to disguise the removal of a named source. 2004: “If the eye came ashore east of the city, van Heerden said, New Orleans….” 2005: “Experts say that if the eye were to come ashore east of the city, New Orleans….”

It could be simple laziness. Perhaps someone in a hurry to get hurricane-related stories up (this is dated as a pre-flooding article) made a mistake and recycled a URL in the database (is that possible on FOXnews’ content management system?) But considering the source and the fact that the official line is now that nobody could possibly have predicted the levee break, it seems like a hell of a coincidence.