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The things some people say: TOXIC THOUGHTS FROM THE “KATRINA EXERCISE”

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by Simon Hunt

For two weeks, the media was awash with coverage of the hurricane that devastated large parts of Louisiana and Mississippi, exposed a much-ignored level of poverty in the south, and raised the bar for free speech. What follows is a small sample of some of the hilarious, misguided, atrocious, inflammatory and plain old stupid things that columnists, radio hosts, politicians, their wives, policy hacks and other public figures have said in the aftermath of Katrina. Some of these quotes may be excused as having been said in the heat of the unscripted moment; many of them reveal more about a facet of the national character than we’d like to ignore.

First, an incredibly brief timeline. August 29, the first of the levee breaches occurred in New Orleans, and the city began to flood. August 30, three days after a national emergency was declared in relation to Hurricane Katrina, President Bush returned to his ranch in Crawford, TX, for the final night of his vacation. On August 31, Condoleeza Rice began a three-day New York vacation, attending the musical Spamalot and shopping for Ferragamo shoes until another shopper accosted her, “How dare you shop for shoes while thousands are dying and homeless!” September 8, Vice President Cheney finally emerged amidst speculations of mansion-shopping, severe illness and a heart operation.

“And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working well for them.”
—Former First Lady Barbara Bush, aired on Marketplace, September 5

“What I’m hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas.”
—Barbara Bush, Marketplace, September 5

“The federal government did not even know about the convention center people until today.”
—Former Director of FEMA Michael Brown on CNN, September 1

“We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn’t do it, but God did.”
—Rep. Richard Baker (R-Louisiana) in the Wall Street Journal, September 9

“They [the UN] don’t really care about anything over there at all. I just wish Katrina had only hit the United Nations building, nothing else, just had flooded them out. And I wouldn’t have rescued them.”
—Bill O’Reilly on The Radio Factor With Bill O’Reilly, September 14

“They’re not going to pay their rent, they’re going to spend it on drugs and alcohol. And therefore, they’re going to be out on the street with their hand out. Many, many, many of the poor in New Orleans are in that condition. They weren’t going to leave no matter what you did. They were drug-addicted. They weren’t going to get turned off from their source. They were thugs, whatever.”
—Bill O’Reilly, The Radio Factor With Bill O’Reilly, September 13

“The government is rewarding people who didn’t purchase insurance by giving them $2000 debit cards. The message sent by the government is to act irresponsibly and wait for others to take care of you.”
—Blogger and “the Heritage Foundation’s chief expert on tax policy and the economy,” Dan Mitchell, posted at townhall.com, September 7

“Katrina gave us a preview of what America would look like if we fail to fight the war on terror. ‘Did God have anything to do with Katrina?’ people ask. My answer is, he allowed it and perhaps he allowed it to get our attention so that we don’t delude ourselves into thinking that all we have to do is put things back the way they were and life will be normal again.”
—Christian radio commentator and former Nixon special counsel Charles Colson on his radio program BreakPoint, September 12

“0.2% of the disaster area is New Orleans! And that’s all we’re hearing about, are the people in New Orleans. Those are the only ones we’re seeing on television are the scumbags.”
—Clear Channel radio host Glenn Beck on The Glenn Beck Program, September 9

“By charging $20, the price gouger makes sure his water goes to those who really need it. […] It’s the price ‘gougers’ who bring the water, ship the gasoline, fix the roof, and rebuild the cities. The price ‘gougers’ save lives.”
—20/20 co-anchor John Stossel in a Wall Street Journal editorial “In Praise of Gouging,” September 7

“As for the tragic piggism that is taking place on the streets of New Orleans, it is not unbelievable but it is unforgivable, and I hope the looters are shot.”
—Wall Street Journal contributing editor Peggy Noonan in an OpinionJournal.com column, September 1

“I understand there are 10,000 people dead. It’s terrible. It’s tragic. But in a democracy of 300 million people, over years and years and years, these things happen.”
—Jack Burkman on the MSNBC program Connected Coast to Coast, September 7

“Out of the rubbles of Trent Lott’s house — he’s lost his entire house — there’s going to be a fantastic house. And I’m looking forward to sitting on the porch.”
—President George W. Bush in a press conference, September 2 (Trent Lott, of course, has other houses)

“Again, I want to thank you all for —and, Brownie [former FEMA Director Michael Brown], you’re doing a heck of a job.”
—President Bush in a press conference, September 2

“…a couple of hundred thousand people who have been so trained in being passive, expecting the government to do absolutely everything for them, that they didn’t have the necessary brains and common sense to get out of the way of a Cat 5 hurricane. And then after it hit them, stood on the sidewalk of the convention center expiring while reporters were coming and going, some of them, I understand, even in taxi cabs.”
—KFBK Radio talk show host Mark Williams, on CNN’s ShowBiz Tonight, September 8

“I will tell you the only role that race plays in this is that the American black population has been the prototype for an entire race of people being turned into a group of dependents of the government. And these people you saw at the convention center, the people who were trapped there, trapped—I’m using that word very loosely—are screaming ‘We want help, we want help’ for four or five days. Yet they didn’t bother even trying to help themselves.”
—Mark Williams, ShowBiz Tonight, September 8

“New Orleans now is abortion free. New Orleans now is Mardi Gras free. New Orleans now is free of Southern Decadence and the sodomites, the witchcraft workers, false religion—it’s free of all of those things now. God simply, I believe, in His mercy purged all of that stuff out of there—and now we’re going to start over again.”
—Pastor of the New Covenant Fellowship of New Orleans Bill Shanks, quoted in Agape Press, September 2

“I think we are in fact on our way to getting on top of the whole Katrina exercise. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us.”
—Vice President “Dick” Cheney in a press conference, September 10

“Go fuck yourself, Mr. Cheney.”
—Unwilling participant in the “Katrina exercise,” aired on CNN and MSNBC, September 8

“For the past 48 hours, the evacuation of the Texas coastline in anticipation of Hurricane Rita has run like clockwork.”
—Washington Post, September 23

“With Hurricane Rita breathing down Houston’s neck, those with cars were stuck in gridlock trying to get out. […] ‘All the banks are closed and I just got off work,’ said Thomas Visor, holding his sweaty paycheck as he, too, tried to get inside the store, where more than 100 people, all of them black or Hispanic, fretted in line. ‘This is crazy. How are you supposed to evacuate a hurricane if you don’t have money? Answer me that?’”
—The Associated Press, September 22

MR. BILL: “Gee, kids, I’m not sure we can do our show today because it looks like Hurricane Sluggo is headed right for us here in America’s wetlands.”
WALTER WILLIAMS, MR. BILL CREATOR: “That’s right, Mr. Bill. And since New Orleans is below sea level, if a hurricane hit us directly, it could push the water over the levees and fill it to the top.”
BILL: “Well then, we’d better leave.”
WILLIAMS: “Well, it’s too late to evacuate since all the roads are jammed and under water.”
—Mr. Bill, Play-Doh character created for Saturday Night Live, from a 2004 wetlands and coastal erosion awareness campaign.
“I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees.”
—President Bush on Good Morning America, September 1

In addition to the primary sources listed above, material for this piece was gathered through and thanks to these sites: LexisNexis, whitehouse.gov, atrios.blogspot.com, townhall.com, mediamatters.org

Check out thinkprogress.org for a hyperlinked examination of the first few days of the Katrina emergency.

illustration by Feras Kahgani

October 2005

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