The media at all levels on Wednesday pounced on video released by the AP of government conference calls held as Hurricane Katrina hit last August, with most stories portraying them as containing a smoking gun about how President Bush was warned about potential levee failure. But as FNC's Brit Hume noted on his show Thursday night, the video, which MSNBC's Hardball hyped Wednesday as “breaking news,” was hardly any such thing, or “confidential video” as the AP hyped, since the video was made public at the time and the sessions were open to the press.
During Hume's panel segment, Bill Sammon, fresh to the Washington Examiner from the Washington Times, excoriated his press corps colleagues for “journalistic fraud” as well as “disingenuous” and "bogus" reporting. Referring to the video of a meeting President Bush participated in from his Texas ranch, Sammon charged: “It's held out today and yesterday as almost a smoking gun. I would say not only is it not a smoking bun gun, it's actually a journalistic fraud for some of the reasons you've outlined where they suggested it was ‘confidential' videotape where it wasn't. It was open press. Also, they make Max Mayfield out to sound like he was sounding the alarm bells when clearly he was ambivalent in the extreme....So, to suggest that was the warning that Bush should have heeded and didn't, is disingenuous in the extreme.” Sammon also took on the press for denigrating Michael Brown as an incompetent, but now they want to “rehabilitate him because he's now willing to trash the Department of Homeland Security....This is disingenuous of the mainstream media to suddenly rehabilitate Michael Brown for their own political purposes." (Transcript follows.)
Sammon appeared, with Morton Kondracke of Roll Call and the Boston's Globe's Nina Easton, on the panel segment of the March 2 Special Report with Brit Hume.
Hume set up the discussion by referring to the difference between “breaching,” when a levee fails and what Bush said in an interview was not anticipated, and “topping,” when some water goes over a levee which remains intact, of which the National Hurricane Center's Max Mayfield had raised as a possibility:
“You might not have recognized that distinction if you looked only at the video footage that the AP put out yesterday calling it ‘confidential footage.’ It turns out, however, that this confidential footage was of a briefing that was almost entirely open in the entirety to the press, including Fox News. What's more, you didn't find out from the AP footage yesterday, that Max Mayfield, who you heard warning about the possibility of the levees may be ‘topped,’ though not breached, also said the following, quote, ‘the current track and the forecast that we have now suggests that there will be minimal flooding in the city of New Orleans itself but we've always said that the storm surge model is only accurate within about 20 percent,’ which means 80 percent accurate. So, what about all this?...”
“We had quite a stir yesterday when this came out. And it was all over the morning papers, and it was all over the evening news that some new revelation had been made showing the extent that the President had been warned that exactly what ended up happening was going to happen. And yet he expressed confidence in the briefing that everybody was doing all they could. What do we think of this? Bill, you were covering him at that point actually and you’ve got stuff about his response to Katrina in Strategery, your new book?”
“It’s held out today and yesterday as almost a smoking gun. I would say not only is it not a smoking bun gun, it's actually a journalistic fraud for some of the reasons you’ve outlined where they suggested it was ‘confidential’ videotape where it wasn't. It was open press. Also, they make Max Mayfield out to sound like he was sounding the alarm bells when clearly he was ambivalent in the extreme by saying no one can really tell whether it's going to 'top’ the levee. Notice he didn't talk about breaching. When I went down there with President Bush in the immediate aftermath, there was a three hundred foot section of the 17th Street levee gone. Forget about topping, it was gone. It had been blown away by the water. So, to suggest that was the warning that Bush should have heeded and didn't, is disingenuous in the extreme. Also, the day before the storm hit. Let me read one quote from Bush, quote: 'We cannot stress enough the danger this hurricane poses to gulf coast communities. I urge all citizens to put their own safety and the safety of their families first by moving to safe ground,’ end quote. Now, to me that's a guy who also has grave concerns about the pending hurricane. And to suggest that he was sort of asleep at the switch and uncaring and disinterested, which is how its been portrayed in the press, is completely bogus.”
Sammon a bit later, on the media's derogatory portrayal last fall of Michael Brown: “This is outrageous. Michael Brown was savaged in the immediate aftermath. He was the poster boy of everything that went wrong. You remember, ‘you’re doing heck of a job, Brownie.’ T-shirts were printed up. He was ridiculed like few figures in American life are. And now that he's been completely driven into the ground, the media have come along, and now with this new news cycle, has said let's rehabilitate him because he's now willing to trash the Department of Homeland Security. I actually read a CBS report today online that called him, without any attribution, just stated it as fact, that he was a 'scapegoat.’ Now I don't recall CBS calling him a scapegoat in the immediate aftermath. They were calling him an idiot. This is disingenuous of the mainstream media to suddenly rehabilitate Michael Brown for their own political purposes.”