When the going got tough, FEMA went sightseeing
The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy will be studied by future generations as one of the most bizarre, and consequential, examples of political manipulation and media bias from our current era. The next time a round-table commentator says anything about a “right-wing media bubble,” any right-wing guests should remind him of the impenetrable left-wing media force field surrounding Long Island and New Jersey in the final days of the 2012 election. This was a story where the press reported the opposite of the truth, because they wanted their chosen presidential candidate, Barack Obama, to look like a heroic presidential figure, when they should have been ripping him to shreds over Hurricane Katrina Redux. And it worked – there are numerous exit polls that show Obama’s purportedly masterful Katrina response was a significant factor in the decisions of late-breaking voters.
Even now, it looks like only Fox News is much interested in reporting on what actually happened after President Obama slipped on a bomber jacket, gave a speech where he claimed all the usual red tape of his bloated and inefficient government would be cut, and jetted off to his next campaign event without so much as a backward glance. Today’s Fox exclusive concerns Federal Emergency Management Agency workers who were rushed into the storm-ravaged area… only to sit idle for days.
A FEMA worker who spoke to FoxNews.com described a chaotic scene at New Jersey’s Fort Dix, where emergency workers arrived as the storm bore down on the Atlantic Coast. The worker said officials at the staging area were unprepared and told the incoming responders there was nothing for them to do for nearly four days.
“They told us to hurry, hurry, hurry,” the worker, who works at the agency’s headquarters in Washington and volunteered to deploy for the storm recovery effort. “We rushed to Fort Dix, only to find out that our liaison didn’t even know we were coming.”
“The regional coordinator even said to us, ‘I don’t know why you were rushed here because we don’t need you,’” said the worker, who spoke out of frustration with the lack of planning and coordination following the devastating storm.
After arriving in New Jersey, the worker and others waited for three full days and parts of another, even as reports dominated the television of the devastation and suffering wrought by the storm, which struck land on Oct. 29. When they asked for assignments, they couldn’t believe the response, according to the worker.
“They told us to go to the Walmart nearby or to check out the area but told us to stay out of the areas affected by the storm,” the worker said. “If our boss back at headquarters had not been alerted and didn’t make a push to get us assignments, the people running the show on the ground level would have just kept us sitting in the barracks.”
But… but… only Big Government can handle big storms! The New York Times said so!
There were FEMA officials who wanted to do the right thing. Fox News found an email from an administration in Washington who learned “my people are being told to go sightseeing,” and begged regional supervisors to “reach out to contacts there that may be able to use their expertise.”
But this is all completely contrary to the media action line that Barack Obama was a great leader who saved everyone from post-hurricane misery by cutting through red tape. Why didn’t the President slip his bomber jacket back on and make these “get off your butts” phone calls, instead of mid-level bureaucrats?
A FEMA worker told Fox, “I worked in Katrina, and Katrina was better run than Sandy.” President George Bush was personally blamed for the Katrina aftermath, even though some of his most strident critics would be hard-pressed to put a finger on exactly what he did wrong, particularly given the relationship between the powers of the President and local governors during such crises. In contrast, Obama – who, among other things, had the lessons of Katrina to learn from – was granted an unlimited line of credit for bold leadership, to the point where it influenced the presidential election, even though no one could cite any example of “leadership” beyond one speech and a few photo ops. Meanwhile, reporters were studiously ignoring what was actually happening on the ground, not very far from where many of their news organizations maintain their headquarters.
This is one of many data points collected by those who marvel at the nearly absolute disconnect between the media narrative surrounding federal response to Sandy, and the terrible reality. Others include the FEMA offices that shut down due to inclement weather, and angry Sandy survivors who said the President’s photo ops were a waste of time, or boiled over with rage at town-hall meetings because they felt he had betrayed them. But they’ll remain isolated data points, because the media is not interested in weaving them into a narrative. Their guy won the election, after all, and they’re not much interested in reminding news consumers that they built afalsenarrative to help him do it.