NBC anchor Brian Williams raised a wide variety of issues with President Bush in interviews conducted through the day Monday, starting in the morning in the Oval Office and ending with a session following the President’s speech in Philadelphia. But in an interview conducted on Air Force One on the way to Philadelphia, and shown on Monday’s NBC Nightly News, Williams raised, in the guise of what he overheard someone wonder, the racist angle in the response to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Williams proposed: “After the tragedy, I heard someone ask rhetorically, ‘What if this had been Nantucket, Massachusetts, or Inner Harbor Baltimore or Chicago or Houston?’ Are you convinced the response would have been the same? Was there any social or class or race aspect to the response?” Bush rejected the notion.
A September 9 NewsBusters item related, with video, how on the Daily Show on Comedy Central, Williams seemed to come dangerously close to endorsing the view that racism was behind the slow rescue of residents in New Orleans as he approvingly relayed how, a “refrain” he heard from “everyone watching the coverage all week,” was “had this been Nantucket, had this been Boston, Cleveland, Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles, how many choppers would have-” At that point, audience applause caused him to cut off his sentence as he gestured toward the audience to cite affirmation of his point. Hard to imagine that if Williams heard the refrain, which is out there, that the hurricane’s destruction of abortion clinics in New Orleans shows it was meant as God’s punishment of sinful behavior in the city, Williams would have so willingly passed along that line of reasoning. (Transcript of the Williams-Bush exchange follows.)
As Bush and Williams sat in Bush’s office on Air Force One, Williams asked:
“After the tragedy, I heard someone ask rhetorically, ‘What if this had been Nantucket, Massachusetts, or Inner Harbor Baltimore or Chicago or Houston?’ Are you convinced the response would have been the same? Was there any social or class or race aspect to the response?”
Bush replied: “Somebody I heard -- you know, a couple of people you know said, ‘Bush didn't respond because of race, because he's a racist’ or alleged that. That is absolutely wrong. And I reject that. Frankly, that's the kind of thing that -- you can call me anything you want -- but do not call me a racist. Secondly, this storm hit all up and down. It hit New Orleans. But it hit down in Mississippi too. And people should not forget the damage done in Mississippi.”
MSNBC.com has posted a transcript of the entire interviews conducted at three locations during the day Monday. Note: Only excerpts ran on the December 12 NBC Nightly News, so most of what is in the transcript did not air on the NBC Nightly News, though other NBC and MSNBC programs will surely run excerpts. Tuesday night at 10pm EST, MSNBC will air an hour-long special, A Day with the President, based on Williams’ interviews. [UPDATE: 11pm EST: The Nightly News Web site features video of the entirety of all three interview sessions, but you must use MS Internet Explorer and have Windows Media 10 as well as Macromedia Flash 7 installed.]