Friday, March 03, 2006

Breaching and Topping

Sounds like a law firm, doesn’t it? Or some perverse act between consenting adults. But it is more than that. It is the difference between lying and not lying. It is the difference between honesty and distortion. It is the difference between whether the critics of George W. Bush’s handling of Hurricane Katrina have an actual issue or just a fleeting wish. As often is the case, the devil is in the details. And how one chooses to use those details.

Let’s clarify some of those details out the outset. The two terms have to do with water and levees that are supposed to keep water out of places like New Orleans. When levees are “topped,” that means that the water level on the outside of the levee rises high enough to wash over the top of the levee. When “topping” occurs, only a relative little water gets past the levee. Contrast that with “breaching,” where part of the levee collapses and much more water gets in. As we all know, what damaged New Orleans so dramatically was the result not of water washing over the top of the levees, but of water rushing through gaping holes in the levees.

Four days after Katrina struck, Bush said: "I don't think anybody anticipated a breach of the levees." News sources and other of Mr. Bush’s critics have accused the President of lying when he said he wasn't warned that New Orleans’ levees could be breached during the storm. And just this Wednesday the Associated Press claimed, "federal disaster officials warned President Bush and his homeland security chief before Hurricane Katrina struck that the storm could breach levees."

However, a video tape of a conference shows that what National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield actually told Mr. Bush was: "I don't think any model can tell you with any confidence right now whether the levees will be topped or not, but that's obviously a very, very grave concern," supporting the president's contention that the breaching of the levees was unanticipated.

On Thursday Mr. Mayfield told NBC News that he warned the President only that the levees might be topped, not breached, and that "nobody talked about the possibility of a levee breach or failure until after it happened" in the many conference calls he monitored. Mr. Mayfield further told Mr. Bush: "The forecast now suggests that there will be minimal flooding in the City of New Orleans itself."

What is it that motivates people like the President’s enemies to say things that aren’t true? Is it maliciousness? Are they just nasty, vile people who will use any issue, true or not, to score political points?

Are they just sloppy, failing to find out, or not worrying about, the truth before they shoot off their mouths?

Or are they just plain dumb, and don’t realize that someday the truth will come out, and they will look … dumb?

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Anonymous said...

If this were the only case of media misrepresentation, one might possibly assume that it was an honest mistake. That is not the case. There has been a readily determinable pattern of lies about Bush which has been propagated by the media, primarily by some electronic news media and by what has become known as "the left-wing press." People in both houses of Congress who have been keeping one eye on the polls and the other on the fingers that make the X’s have put words in the president’s mouth that he never uttered. Landrieu and Schumer are only the latest in a string of those manufacturing outright lies and/or distortions. The media have been all too eager to spread it around.

One need look no further than Reid, Kennedy, Kerry and Leahy in the Senate and Pelosi, Kennedy and Rangel in the House to determine that there is something brewing and it isn’t homemade. And don’t forget the head of the DNC. It makes one wonder if someone might have sneaked some of that wacky baccy into their Sir Walter Raleigh and, unlike Bill Clinton, actually inhaled. Their pipe dreams look suspicious. Even Hillary is ashamed of them.

The resulting problem is that so many folk do not take the time or the effort to determine the truth, but accept as gospel any words uttered by members of their own party. A hard look at the records of many of those representatives would reveal that they are not as lily white as they would have you believe. The media hasten to print or repeat every lie they tell as long as it denigrates President Bush and has a few million big ears attached to small minds which believe all they hear and nothing they could see for themselves.

My opinion is that the media are still wearing red faces from the not-too-distant past when they mistakenly tried to equate eloquence with intelligence. They aren’t the same thing. Many who rushed to declare Bush a moron can’t find enough salt to kill the taste of the crow when they learned that he is smarter than any three of them put together.

One question which I would like answered honestly and briefly about the Nawlins disaster is how that barge actually wound up in someone’s front yard when it should have stayed in Lake Pontchartrain. I doubt that I will ever know whether it broke the levee and rushed through or if the levee was breached by water and the barge just lazied its way through the gap. I have trouble believing that a barge, even a free-floating one, could find a 100 foot hole in a dike which is several miles long and didn’t break any place else that I am aware of.

Anonymous said...

Broad swipes at the "media" are intellectually dishonest. There are far too many news sources (print, TV, radio, Internet) in the world to classify in one homogenous group. They didn't all swoop down on the story about topped levees. It was primarily a wire report and it was reported as such. You might like to think that most of us can't think for ourselves and that it takes people like you to help us see the light, but, alas, you are wrong.

Many newspapers, including the New York Times, did not put a reporter on the story to follow up. Neither did the Wall Street Journal. Others reported the story as the controversy it was. They explained what happened including the 'topping' vs 'breaching' issue. I was able to discern that the president was not specifically told a breaching was expected. But I also felt he should have known. FEMA officials were in helicopters over New Orleans and they reported the urgency of the situation to decision makers in Wash D.C. No one has explained why these dire reports were withheld from the president, but we can guess. We have learned that people in this administration are afraid to bring bad news to the president because he doesn't take it well.

Shooting the messenger is a way to temporarily avoid bad news, but it won't stop it. I think it is possible that no one wanted to be the one to tell the president so instead they decided to hope for the best and ignored the growing reality of eye-witness reports from FEMA officials who knew better.

Anonymous said...

Having been in, around and with several media outlets, perhaps I should have been a bit more specific, but I thought I had sufficiently separated them in my first paragraph. I should have known better.
My brief piece was not intended so much to belabor the breaching issue, but the broader practice of misrepresenting others.
If you want to take the time to corroborate my viewpoint, read T. Blankley's column in today's Washington Times (Denial) and the column by Jerry Zeilman (Ports and Port Secrecy), a lifelong Democrat, in the March 2 issue, both still available on the web copies. Those do not deal with levee problems however.
I doubt that anyone had sufficient 20/20 foresight to accurately predict that the levee would be breached in this specific storm, although previous assessments had been made which indicated that the possibility had existed for decades. I don't know how familiar you are with hydrodynamics or with hydromechanics, but static water can exert only so much pressure at a height of eight feet, regardless of the volume of equal height behind it. That is why I would like to learn more about the barge.
As for believing that no one possesses thought processes, that did not enter my mind. I have talked with several thousands of people over the past few years from all walks of life and from all over this country as well as from many foreign countries. I stand by my earlier statement.