DN: Gov. Blanco turned down help from Bush – or did she?

Journalist Roland Poirier Martinsson has received a “sum of money” to do a report about Swedish media and its coverage of Hurricane Katrina. I’m sure he will do an excellent job, and not let his previous conclusions disturb the report. Nevertheless, I would very much like Martinsson to include these two recent articles because I reacted strongly to the way especially Dagens Nyheter portrayed a certain “fact” about Gov. Blanco.

First PM Nilsson of Expressen who writes that Blanco refused help from the White House because the state had everything under control:

“Och vi vet också att Louisianas guvernör Kathleen Blanco fem dagar efter Katrina avvisade hjälp från Vita huset eftersom hon ansåg att delstaten “hade allt under kontroll” (New York Times 8/9). Vi vet också att USA:s delstater svartsjukt bevakar sin suveränitet och att federationen USA är en ganska tunn stat inombords. Washington kan inte klampa in med trupp och nödhjälp om inte delstaten kräver det, och för en president är denna avvägning viktigare än hudfärgen på de drabbade.”

Hans Bergström of Dagens Nyheter tags along in the same lines, noting that Blanco refused to let federal organizations lead the evacuation. The headline of the article is “Guvernören sa nej när Bush ville hjälpa”, translated “The governor said no, when Bush wanted to help”:

“Så snart omfånget av katastrofen började stå klart, vände sig Bushadministrationen till delstaten Louisianas demokratiske guvernör Kathleen Blanco och bad henne begära att den federala nivån tog över ansvaret för evakueringen (enligt Associated press och New York Times). Hon vägrade, troligen utifrån traditionell benägenhet i södern, att värja sig mot maktövertagande från Washington.”

I suspect they both refer to this article from NY Times (I find it fascinating that they both make a reference to other media, for credibility, but do not provide a link so that we could check their sources for ourselves). What this article points to is that she didn’t reject federal help per se, but one specific proposal regarding how to organize the disaster relief efforts.

“After huddling with her advisers late into the night last Friday and again Saturday morning, she rejected a White House proposal to consolidate the National Guard and active duty troops in the Hurricane Katrina disaster zone under a single commander appointed by the Bush administration.”

“If I had seen a greater purpose, if I had felt it would make an immediate difference, it would have been a no-brainer, but by Friday, we had everything in control,” she said in an interview in a trailer behind the state’s emergency operations center.

NY Times continues:

“She said the proposal to unify the troops under federal command amounted to bureaucratic reshuffling, when what she really needed was more resources to save lives.”

Her rejection of the proposal meant that: “…she is in control of the National Guard soldiers in Louisiana, while the president has authority over the active duty troops.”

To quote NY Times, whether her decision was best for her state remains to be seen. At least I think that PM Nilsson’s and Hans Bergström’s articles give a completely different impression of Blanco’s requests for and acceptance of federal help, especially considering, according to her own claims “she insisted that she asked for help early on in several conversations with President Bush.”

Further reading. Talking Points Memo: “…the White House has been hitting her for weeks now claiming that in various ways she dropped the ball. And that seems quite simply to be false.”

The Congressional Research Service reviewed the record to see whether Gov. Blanco took the necessary steps in a timely fashion to secure federal assistance in the face of hurricane Katrina. And she did. Full report.

“…she did take the necessary steps to request emergency and major disaster declarations for the State of Lousiana in anticipation of the Hurricane Katrina.”

More: Jay Rosen also has some views (and raises some good questions) on the story, among other things how the Washington Post got spun by nameless sources who falsely put the blame on Blanco:

“Both Josh Marshall and Arianna Huffington pointed away from backbone recovery to ask how the Washington Post allowed itself to be used by a nameless Bush official peddling the “fact” that as of Sep. 3rd, Lousiana Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco still had not declared a state of emergency. (Newsweek also had it.) This turned out to be wrong. She declared an emergency on Aug. 26.”