Monday, September 05, 2005

For Bush, "Damage Control" Involves PR, Not Dealing With Katrina's Aftermath


In the aftermath of one of the worst disasters in the history of the United States, the Bush White House's top priority is to contain the damage.

No, not the damage to the Katrina-ravaged areas.

Instead, we're referring to the damage done to Bush's image.

In the early going of Katrina's aftermath, Bush took a black eye in the PR stakes via a series of blunders. This resulted in something we've not seen in the mainstream media for years: stories that are actually critical of the Bush White House.

With echoes of Nero fiddling while Rome burned, a nation watched in amazement as a vacationing Bush strummed a guitar as Katrina unleashed its fury. We then watched in disbelief as Bush made astonishingly idiotic comments.

"I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees," Bush said with a straight face to ABC's Diane Sawyer.

It seems to me that the nation's budget-starved emergency planning officials could have told Bush this years ago. (Indeed, they tried to tell him, but their cries were ignored, as billions of dollars were shifted from urgent levee projects to the quicksands of the bloody Iraq quagmire).

Bush's PR took a further beating with the growing realization that many of the thousands of expected deaths were avoidable and could be chalked up to the inept relief efforts, much of which came far too late. It's important to note that experts have long warned that the first 72 hours after a natural disaster are the vital time-frame during which lives can be saved with quick action.

The inadequate and delayed relief efforts actually prompted our nation's media to start asking sharply critical questions about Bush's leadership role in coping with the crisis. Bush's PR image tumbled further when Michael Brown, the man Bush appointed to lead the Federal Emergency Management Agency, showed himself to be disconnected from reality.

Brown professed in an interview that he was unaware until Thursday that there were 15,000 starving, desperate hurricane victims housed at the New Orleans Convention Center---even though this had been widely reported for days.

Bush has definitely lost Round One of the all-important PR battle.

But Bush spin-doctors like Karl Rove have long known that you can lose a few early rounds and still win the war in the PR sweepstakes.

What's important is not the image in people's minds right now. It's how this whole episode will be recalled a year or two down the road.

The White House damage control and PR machine cranked into action this weekend in an effort to contain the political damage.

The New York Times reported Sept. 4 that the Rove-directed PR effort seeks to shift the blame for the slow disaster aid response from the White House to Louisiana and New Orleans officials, (who as it turns out, are Democrats).

We're already seeing the first rotten fruits of Bush/Rove's "shift-the-blame" smear campaign

On Sept. 4, The Washington Post, in remarks attributed to "a senior Bush official," reported that, as of Saturday, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco, a Democrat, had "still had not declared a state of emergency."

This, of course, is a crock. In fact, on Aug. 28, Blanco sent an urgent, detailed letter, requesting that Bush declare "an expedited major disaster for the State of Louisiana."

We can expect the Bush White House to continue to spew lies and misinformation about its bungled Katrina response in the weeks and months to come, as Rove works to keep ahead of the PR curve.

The question is, will the mainstream media play along with this? Will the press let the Bush White House continue to slime the Democrats and shift all blame elsewhere?

In the first few days after Katrina hit, we saw a rare glimpse of this nation's media breaking out of its cozy slumber and asking tough questions for a change. For a moment there, it gave many of us a sense of deja vu as we watched the sort of media that we once admired and respected many years ago.

Now, the siren song of Bush's PR and blame-game blitz is slithering out of the White House once more---will it lull our media back into a sense of complacency and cooperation? Or will we have to continue to rely on the European media and the blogosphere to get the unvarnished truth about the White House?

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