The Reading Comprehension Gap: Media Confuse 'Breach' with 'Overtop'

March 2nd, 2006 7:23 AM
The Associated Press is running a piece of video on which they're claiming exclusivity, of some of the FEMA preparation meetings prior to the landfall of Hurrican Katrina. They've also got video of the President speaking to FEMA, and then, later, speaking to ABC in the aftermath. They've chosen to portray the President as oblivious to what happened in New Orleans.
President Bush (speaking to ABC news): I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees.

Voiceover: A seemingly direct contradiction to what is said at the briefing.

Max Mayfield (director, National Hurricane Center): I don't think anyone can tell you with any confidence right now whether the levees will be topped.

Someone at the AP clearly needs to be taking some listening comprehension lessons. There's not only no "seemingly direct contradiction" between what the President said and what was said at the briefing, there's no contradiction whatsoever. Unless there was something said at the briefing that they didn't include in the report. The President said that no one anticipated the "breach" of the levees. The Director of the National Hurricane Center said that they couldn't say whether the levees would be "topped." Well, that's the difference between your bathtub overflowing, which makes a mess, and collapsing, which is a disaster. People feared that the storm might top the levees, which would cause some flooding in some parts of the city. To the best of my knowledge, there was no public speculation or warning that the levees would actually collapse.
Army Corps personnel, in charge of maintaining the levees in New Orleans, started to secure the locks, floodgates and other equipment so it could better weather the impact, said Greg Breerwood, deputy district engineer for project management at the Army Corps of Engineers.

"We knew if it was going to be a Category 5, some levees and some flood walls would be overtopped," he said. "We never did think they would actually be breached. I don't think anyone raised the question that the city would be flooded to the magnitude it was now."

San Diego Union-Tribune, 9/2/05

UPDATE 8:17. Ed Morrisey and John Hinderacker both have much more on the AP's seeming inability to report this story correctly. Olbermann Watch catches MSNBC's self-styled star in a similar (but far more arrogant) fit of misplaced hauteur.

Update 12:10: One would think that people would have figured it out by now, but apparently not. There are at least two more media outlets making the same error today.

From this morning's Boston Globe:

Bush declared four days after the storm, "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees" that gushed deadly flood waters into New Orleans. But the transcripts and video show there was plenty of talk about that possibility -- and Bush was worried, too.

Again, the transcripts and video show that people were concerned about the levees being topped. That's not the same thing, not by a long shot.

And CBs' The Early Show is doing exactly the same thing.

CBS Reporter Bob Orr: Mayfield warns the levees may not hold.

(National Hurricane Center Director Max) Mayfield: I don't think anybody can tell you with any confidence right now whether the levees will be topped or not, but that's obviously a very, very big concern.