On ABC's World News Tuesday night, a story on President Bush's day in New Orleans aggressively underlined the liberal theme that the response to Hurricane Katrina is a scandalous, indelible black mark on Bush's legacy. Reporter Martha Raddatz told viewers "the slow response was indeed a political disaster for the President, from which he is still trying to recover." Raddatz ended the story with an anecdote about a waitress joking to Bush that he wasn't going to turn his back on her, and Bush reportedly replied: "No, ma'am, not again."
Anchorman Charles Gibson began the segment, the second story after a general recounting of how New Orleanians commemorated the one-year anniversary, with a brief mention of responsibility at all levels of government. But as usual, ABC had no time for the Democratic mayor or governor and their failures, even as Raddatz highlighted the Democratic senator slamming the federal response. Gibson theorized:
"Katrina, of course, also devastated people's faith in their government. City government, state, FEMA. Even the president has absorbed large measures of blame. Today, President bush, on his 13th trip to the area since Katrina made a rather blunt admission. Our chief White House correspondent Martha Raddatz, is joining us from across town. Martha?
Raddatz: "Charlie, as you said, the president has been here many times since the last year. But today, on this anniversary, he seemed especially somber and contrite."
Over a graphic in capital letters reading "TAKING BLAME" sat underneath a picture of Bush at a podium, Raddatz continued:
Raddatz: "The president looked forward in his speech today --"
Bush: "New Orleans is calling her children home. I hear it from all the local officials. They have a plan in place and money coming, to me new orleans a hospitable place."
Raddatz: "And he was also looking back. Remembering the terrible scenes that he said no one ever imagined would happen in America."
Over evocative photographs of suffering African-Americans, ABC ran a clip of Bush: "Citizens drowned in their attics. Desperate mothers crying out on national TV for food and water. The breakdown of law and order. And a government, at all levels, that fell short of its responsibilities. I take full responsibility for the federal government's response."
The president's somber contrition didn't gain him any traction with ABC, as they sought to blacken further his post-Katrina reputation. Raddatz did cite some of the White House claims, but then countered them with gloomy data:
Raddatz: "The slow response was indeed a political disaster for the president, from which he is still trying to recover. Today, the president cited the $110 billion set aside for hurricane recovery. The number of schools that have reopened. And the fact that three-quarters of the debris has been removed. But only $44 billion of the $110 billion has been spent. And the majority of that has gone to emergency response -- trailers, medical care. Few that 5% the homes that were destroyed have been rebuilt. And many hospitals and schools remain closed. It is the reconstruction money that has been slow in coming."
Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-Louisiana): "Just sending $110 billion and then having it stuck in federal bureaucracies that don't work has been maddening for the people that are so desperate for the help down here in New Orleans."
Raddatz: "But the president today suggested a way to get tens of millions of additional dollars directly for Louisiana, urging Congress to pass legislation that would give more of the revenue from offshore oil leases directly to the state."
Raddatz concluded the report on a split screen with Gibson:
"And there was one telling moment today, Charlie. The president went to breakfast at a restaurant with local officials. When he turned to talk to them, a waitress said to him, jokingly, mr. President, you're not going to turn your back on me, are you now? And he said, 'no, Ma'am, not again.'"
The ending should remind the public that writing a news story is very selective -- and liberal outlets loved the waitress story. (Raddatz left out Bush's laugh with the waitress, and the hug pictured in some newspapers.) If there is a political upside in Bush leading with his chin on Katrina, as he seemed to do in New Orleans, ABC wasn't offering it to him.