Brian Williams at Notre Dame Graduation: Katrina Response Was 'Benign Neglect That Turned Fatal'

NBC anchor Brian Williams succeeded Barack Obama as the commencement speaker at Notre Dame on Sunday. Williams sounded like Obama and other Democrats by mentioning the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and somehow working that tragedy backwards to rerun NBC's atrociously biased coverage of Hurricane Katrina. Williams repeated himself on Sunday by calling it "benign neglect turned fatal." (It's here on YouTube, at minute 10.)

If you think that isn’t directed squarely at George W. Bush, you didn’t see the Williams interviews of the "clueless patrician" president and his radical-left black accuser in 2005. (Williams somehow never took the initiative to grill Democratic Gov. Kathleen Blanco or Democratic Mayor Ray Nagin about whether they were clueless.) Williams told the graduates:

The ultimate cruelty, the ultimate perversion is where it’s happening -- one of the most beautiful places on Earth, it’s populated by some of the best people on Earth. Katrina was an act of God; but this one is on us. And the people of the state of Louisiana, and especially the Gulf, do not deserve this. They didn’t deserve the benign neglect that turned fatal five years ago, that split apart families and almost took that city down for good. As those of you from that area know, they came back....

And this is because we are addicted to that brown liquid that comes out of the ground, just like we’re addicted to the black chunks that come from deep in the ground in places like West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

One always wants to suggest that any man or woman who earns $10 million-plus by being broadcast on an electronic device could boldly lead the way by suggesting the newly minted graduates should consume less television. Williams continued with the green theme:

Harvesting those black chunks and that brown liquid is noble work. It feeds families. It educates children at institutions like this one. And in southern Louisiana, the oil platform workers, the shrimpers, the oystermen, often live next door – sometimes in the same families, and sometimes, depending on the season, they’re the same person. Think about it. They both satisfy a hunger. Both hungers bring with them with a huge cost. It has turned toxic this time. It now threatens a way of life. We are staring, make no mistake, at a slow-motion environmental disaster. It will destroy one of the richest wetland estuaries on the planet, and my urgency is because of this: my certainly that this institution, this graduating class, has the brain power to fix it. And now you’ve just been asked.

Nowhere in this green lecture was there a moment’s pause to ponder if President Obama and his team have shown "benign neglect" in this "slow-motion environmental disaster." Instead, he quoted Obama like a wise man.

"Your class has come of age at a moment of great consequence for our nation and our world." Those words aren’t mine. That’s what the President told the class in ‘09. He was right then. He still is. Problem is, since he spoke those words, the problems have grown more acute, more severe, and more urgent since he stood at this lectern and spoke those words.

Yet, Obama is blameless in that growing sense of our problems. Williams also mentioned Obama (indirectly, but with pride) in his list of "greatest things in life."

Thing 3 is the day when we don’t have to mention the word "first" in conjunction with, say, Barack Obama or [Notre Dame valedictorian] Katie Washington.

Williams was rougher on the "criminally slow and botched" Katrina response at the Tulane commencement of 2007:

I arrived next door at the Superdome on a Sunday night. It was already raining and the winds were picking up and hundreds of people were in line outside in the rain. They had suitcases, and young children, and grocery bags and Hefty bags. They were decent, they were scared, they were tired. Some of them are now dead. They were told the Superdome in New Orleans was the shelter of last resort, and my friends, truer words have never been spoken.

That next week is a blur, as it is for everybody in here. “Split-screen America,” we call it. On one side we were showing the live pictures from New Orleans; on the other side of the screen, various government officials telling us they were happy with the response and the resources on their way to New Orleans. It was a disconnect.

We lived in rental cars that week, listening to Garland Robinette on the radio. Any innocence we had about our society was washed away. Any beliefs I used to cling to about my children and their counterparts in the Superdome being equals, they were washed away that day. I would give anything I have for all of you to not have to learn the lessons you had to learn in that way. It was an evil storm, it was a criminally slow and botched response. You deserved better and so did this great American city.

More: Brian Williams discusses getting in Bush's grill (or vice versa) over Katrina.

The South Bend Tribune account skips over the "benign neglect turned fatal" slam.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis