A tale of two disasters: On ABC’s Good Morning America this morning, weatherman Sam Champion’s piece included reaction from several residents of Florida, Alabama and Louisiana to President Obama’s oil spill speech, and found three outright critics and no defenders of the administration’s handling of the disaster. One woman exclaimed: “What I would have liked to heard from him – that he actually had a plan.”
The kindest review came from a man in Alabama who merely hoped the federal response would improve: “I think we're seeing a change in how he's handling the situation. And I hope it's for the better.”
Five years ago, after President Bush spoke in New Orleans a few weeks after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf coast, ABC assembled a focus group of six people displaced by the storm, and taking refuge in Houston’s Astrodome. But to the evident astonishment of ABC’s correspondent, not one member of that group would denounce President Bush, but instead leveled their criticism at local officials who failed to prepare the city ahead of time.
As NewsBuster’s Brent Baker reported at the time:
ABC News producers probably didn't hear what they expected when they sent Dean Reynolds to the Houston Astrodome's parking lot to get reaction to President Bush's speech from black evacuees from New Orleans. Instead of denouncing Bush and blaming him for their plight, they praised Bush and blamed local officials.
Reynolds asked Connie London: "Did you harbor any anger toward the President because of the slow federal response?" She rejected the premise: "No, none whatsoever, because I feel like our city and our state government should have been there before the federal government was called in." She pointed out: "They had RTA buses, Greyhound buses, school buses, that was just sitting there going under water when they could have been evacuating people."
Not one of the six people interviewed on camera had a bad word for Bush -- despite Reynolds' best efforts. Reynolds goaded: "Was there anything that you found hard to believe that he said, that you thought, well, that's nice rhetoric, but, you know, the proof is in the pudding?" Brenda Marshall answered, "No, I didn't," prompting Reynolds to marvel to anchor Ted Koppel: "Very little skepticism here."
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You can read Brent Baker's full item from 2005 here.
(It's also worth noting, ABC devoted a full hour of prime time to Bush's 2005 speech, but -- perhaps trying to help downplay expectations -- provided only two minutes of analysis following Obama's speech last night.)
Coincidentally, a new poll released yesterday found Louisiana voters giving President Obama lower marks for his response to the oil spill than Bush’s response to Katrina. According to a report posted yesterday at FoxNews.com:
Louisiana voters think President George W. Bush did a better job handling the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina than President Obama has done in the wake of the BP oil spill, according to a new poll.
The Public Policy Polling survey showed 50 percent of state voters rated Bush's performance in 2005 as better than Obama's. Just 35 percent picked Obama....
Louisiana voters by no means are happy with the way the Bush administration handled the flooding in 2005. But while the PPP poll showed just a third of voters approved of the way Bush handled Katrina, the numbers were generally worse for Obama. Sixty-two percent said they disapproved of Obama's handling of the crisis, compared with 58 percent for Bush.
MRC intern Alex Fitzsimmons caught Sam Champion’s report from the Gulf this morning. Co-anchor Robin Roberts framed the reaction as one of “cautious optimism,” but the soundbites from the residents are much more negative than the reporters’ script:
CO-ANCHOR ROBIN ROBERTS: People on the front lines of this spill, residents on the Gulf coast, watched President Obama’s address to the nation with cautious optimism. Sam Champion is in Pensacola, Florida and got some of their reactions. Good morning, Sam.
WEATHERMAN SAM CHAMPION: Hey, good morning, Robin. Welcome back. We've spent a lot of time walking and talking with the people who live in this area. They've spent some time watching and waiting. And they really only have one course. You said it at the top of the show: action. Folks in Pensacola Beach usually come to the Flounder's Chowder House to forget their worries.
PRESIDENT OBAMA, HEARD ON THE RESTAURANT’S TV: Tonight, I'd like to lay out for you what the battle plan is going forward.
CHAMPION: Tuesday, they faced him in wide-screen.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: What I would have liked to heard from him – that he actually had a plan.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: If we're in a war, as he says we are, then why aren't we bringing everybody into the picture that's offered their help?
CHAMPION: On Alabama's Orange beach, a sense that seeing things firsthand may have made a difference for the president.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I think we're seeing a change in how he's handling the situation. And I hope it's for the better.
CHAMPION: On New Orleans' Bourbon Street, more skepticism.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I think it's lacking. I don't think he's responded to what we're going to do about the cleanup issues.
OBAMA IN SPEECH: Our top priority is to –
CHAMPION: But even before the President spoke, frustration had already given way to anger.
ED Valmont (sp?), Gulf coast resident: They said the inner waters were safe. We thought they were protected.
CHAMPION: Ed Valmont usually harvests blue crabs off his back yard. On Tuesday, he only harvested oil.
VALMONT: I mean that stuff's like glue. All you got to do is just touch it and it's on you forever.
CHAMPION: But for people who live here, forever is too long.
ALLEN PRIEST, Gulf coast resident: We're not waiting on the government to really take over.
CHAMPION: When little Sabine Bay faced a different kind of pollution ten years ago, Allen Priest's neighbors cleaned it up themselves. Give them the tools and they say they will do it again. (To Priest) The President keeps saying that they want to leave the Gulf coast better than it is right now, after the spill. What does that mean to you?
PRIEST: I don't really think that's totally our president's job. I think it's our responsibility as citizens to do that, if we care about this place.
CHAMPION: I'll tell you, Allen Priest said it. But a lot of other people said it, too. They trust the people they know. He believes his area won't be polluted because there's someone he knows watching the water. George.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Okay, Sam.