Sunday, September 11, 2005

Michael Chertoff's Magic Bullet

Wonkette wondered last week about Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff's reading habits. She was prompted by Chertoff's now-notorious Sept. 4 explanation for the delayed relief efforts: "I remember on Tuesday morning picking up newspapers and I saw headlines, 'New Orleans Dodged The Bullet.'" Wonkette asks, fairly, what headlines Chertoff might have seen that morning, and gets the process of elimination going by providing some clear non-examples.

But I wanted to come at it from the other direction, so I did a nexis search for occurrences of the phrase, "New Orleans dodged the bullet," and, to give the man some slack, "New Orleans dodged a bullet." Just in case (trying to be fair here).

The result? My nexis search turned up not a single newspaper from Tuesday that had either the headline, or the phrase, "New Orleans Dodged [a/the] bullet." Now -- again, trying to be fair here -- it's possible Mr. Chertoff got the phrase from some other medium, or perhaps not even on Tuesday. So let's survey the closest matches my nexis search did find:

CBS News Transcripts
SHOW: CBS News Special Report 11:00 AM EST
CBS August 29, 2005 Monday
HEADLINE: Hurricane Katrina lowered to Category 3; Katrina swings east and buffets Mobile, Alabama
HARRY SMITH reporting: In case you're just waking up, the city of New Orleans has perhaps dodged a really significant bullet because this hurricane was headed straight for New Orleans. It veered off to the east; that means the coast of Mississippi is really getting slammed, and New Orleans is going to suffer significant damage from this, but maybe not as bad as a lot of people anticipated.
Ah, so that's what happened! Chertoff heard on Monday morning that New Orleans dodged a bullet! Because New Orleans didn't get the direct hit from Katrina's eye, Chertoff must have still assumed the next morning that the New Orleans damage, as Harry Smith suggested optimistically, would not be "as bad as a lot of people anticipated." Of course, come to think of it, for Chertoff to reach this conclusion, he'd have had to ignore the very next words Smith said:
"But with winds at 125 miles an hour, Katrina is still a dangerous hurricane that threatens massive flooding."
Wow. Massive flooding. That could be bad. Let's move on to Tuesday.
National Public Radio (NPR)
SHOW: Day to Day 4:00 AM EST
August 30, 2005 Tuesday
HEADLINE: New Orleans spared the worst but still reeling
ALEX CHADWICK, host: ...In New Orleans, two large breaches in levees continue to pour water from Lake Pontchartrain into the city. It's just a mess all along there. Lafayette, Louisiana, is--What?--a couple of hundred miles west of New Orleans, about that. NPR's Phillip Davis is there. Phillip, what are you seeing?
PHILLIP DAVIS reporting: Well, you know, when Katrina was starting to get close to the edge of New Orleans a couple days ago, we were talking about the doomsday scenario, that if the storm surge was as high as predicted, it might end up flooding the entire city since much of it is under sea level. And yesterday morning when the storm took a quick jog to the east, a lot of people kind of breathed a sigh of relief thinking that New Orleans had dodged the bullet...
Okay, well, there you have it! It turns out Chertoff didn't get his information from a newspaper, after all! He was simply listening to NPR at 4:00 Tuesday morning. But, wait a minute...unless he happened to turn off his radio precisely at the word, "bullet," he would have had to hear the very next words out of Phillip Davis's mouth:
"...but now it looks like the doomsday scenario is happening. The mayor, Ray Nagin, says 80 percent of the city is under water right now because of the breaches in the levee protecting the city from Lake Pontchartrain."
Doomsday scenario? And that's from 4 a.m. Tuesday, well before Chertoff would have seen the morning paper, even if he gets it delivered right to his door.

But so far, we've only seen radio and broadcast TV references. Maybe he actually did get it from a newspaper. Let's skip ahead to Thursday:
Charleston Gazette (West Virginia)
September 1, 2005, Thursday
SECTION: Editorial; Pg. P4A
HEADLINE: Disaster Worse than imagined
AT FIRST it seemed that New Orleans had dodged the bullet.
Well, there you go! The very first line exonerates Chertoff! And, to make the irony doubly rich, it comes from one of the Charlestons with which FEMA was so preoccupied!

But, still. Can we be so sure? Let's read that editorial a little more comprehensively than just the first sentence...
Charleston Gazette (West Virginia)
September 1, 2005, Thursday
SECTION: Editorial; Pg. P4A
HEADLINE: Disaster Worse than imagined
AT FIRST it seemed that New Orleans had dodged the bullet. No more. Now it's known that a city of half a million has pretty much disappeared under a lake of dirty brown water containing floating corpses.

Okay, so either Chertoff is a REALLY bad skimmer, or he doesn't actually subscribe to the Charleston (W. Va.) Gazette.

Now, I didn't want to dive right into the cable networks, because they were talking about Katrina non-stop. But maybe we have to dig through all that material to find this bullet of Chertoff's.

And what do you know? On Monday night, someone did tell Aaron Brown that New Orleans had "dodged the bullet"! Let's see who that was!
August 29, 2005 Monday
HEADLINE: Hurricane Katrina Pummels Three States
AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: ...Give me your most honest answer. You're getting a lot of information from a lot of sources: From police sources, from the Coast Guard, lots of people. Do you feel you have the, what we call on television the wide shot, of how big, how bad, how deadly, how devastating the last 24 hours have been?
Here it comes! That moment when the transcript reveals the interviewee, and we find out who might, just might have been the source of the magic bullet that lodged so strongly in Chertoff's brain! According to the transcript it was none other than...
MICHAEL BROWN, FEMA: Well, Aaron, I'm just beginning to get that wide -angle view and I've got to tell you, it's very, very sobering. I've had some folks out on the reconnaissance helicopters, in fact, some of them were on the helicopters that started doing the rescues from the rooftops. And I think what we see is, sure, New Orleans dodged the bullet, in the sense that the catastrophic disaster we thought would occur downtown, moved slightly to the east, 30 or 40 miles. But what that meant is that we now have literally neighborhood after neighborhood that is totally engulfed in water. We still have water coming into those neighborhoods and so my honest assessment is, is that we have a major disaster here where people are not going to be able to get into their homes for weeks, if not months.
Well, there you have it! Mystery solved! We've located the source of the magic bullet Chertoff saw Tuesday morning: It originated with his own subordinate the night before! However, even on Monday, Michael Brown recognized that the bullet still carried significant power. As Brown said, even though New Orleans dodged the bullet "in a sense", it still left "literally neighborhood after neighborhood...totally engulfed in water."

So, what have we learned about Chertoff's magic bullet? It originated with FEMA chief Michael Brown Monday night, skirted around the city of New Orleans, unleashed a flood by ricocheting off the city's levees, lost much of its momentum so that it appeared harmless when it whizzed by Michael Chertoff Tuesday morning while he read the morning papers, and then, finally, when all was said and done, somehow regained enough deadly power to force an entire city's population back...and to the left.

UPDATE...A reader points out I haven't been the only one searching for Chertoff's Magic Bullet. Americablog turned up another theory that merits scrutiny. After all, if any media outlet is inclined to believe in magic, it's WorldNetDaily.


Anonymous said...

Actually, it orgininated with WingNutDaily, but that is excellent investigative work. I'm impressed. It's the same thing, Brown WingNutDaily, it's all part of their echo chamber and misinformational noise machine.

Aravosis cauught it.

property is theft said...

RTW, nothing petty about it. Change it to grand larseny. I like it.

Jonquil said...

Oh, well sleuthed.

Mary Wintersteen said...

Hello. I just wanted to give a quick greeting and tell you I enjoyed reading your material.

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