September 12, 2005


Why Levee Breaches In New Orleans Were Late-Breaking News (JOE HAGAN and JOSEPH T. HALLINAN, 9/12/05, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL)

On Sunday, Sept. 4, Tim Russert of NBC's "Meet the Press" asked Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to explain President Bush's statement that the government couldn't have anticipated breaches in levees in New Orleans.

Mr. Chertoff talked about news coverage. "Well, I think if you look at what actually happened, I remember on Tuesday morning picking up newspapers, and I saw headlines, 'New Orleans Dodged The Bullet,' " he said. "Because if you recall, the storm moved to the east and then continued on and appeared to pass with considerable damage but nothing worse. It was on Tuesday that the levee -- may have been overnight Monday to Tuesday -- that the levee started to break."

But now it is known that major levee breaks occurred much earlier than that, starting in the morning of Monday, Aug. 29, the day Hurricane Katrina made landfall. Even as the storm veered off and many observers felt a sense of relief, the Industrial Canal levee in eastern New Orleans was giving way, and a rush of water swiftly submerged much of the Lower Ninth Ward and areas nearby, trapping thousands of people on rooftops and in attics. The 17th Street Canal levee also was breached early Monday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers now believes, resulting in a slower-rising flood over a larger area.

Yet it wasn't until Tuesday that most people across the country, apparently including Mr. Chertoff, realized that any levees at all had been breached. Did media outlets get it wrong, as Mr. Chertoff claimed? Some did, some didn't.

A look at news reports of the events of Aug. 29 paints a picture of confusion, miscommunication and conflicting information among some government officials and news media.'s the can it not have perfect knowledge?

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 12, 2005 1:52 PM

To ask such a question seriously, not rhetorically as you do, one would have to be a completely vile cynic or a pathetic, callow, and gormless naif. Where are the adults?

Posted by: Luciferous at September 12, 2005 2:44 PM

Expecting some vague sense headlines like these existed is excpecting "perfect knowledge," eh?

Bush just said today that his sense--AFTER these headlines came out--was that NO had "dodged a bullet."

Posted by: Rick Perlstein at September 12, 2005 3:07 PM

"Dodged a bullet" were the buzzwords of the day on Monday evening, when it appeared the brunt of the damage to the residiental housing was going to be in the Bay St. Louis/Biloxi coastal area of Mississippi. It was only when people woke up Tuesday morning that the first reports started coming out about a major inflow of water into New Orleans due to the levee breaks (and it will be interesting when the networks start doing their full video retrospectives if they manage to omit their own statements from the evening of Aug. 29, and just jump straight from the afternoon storm coverage to the Tuesday morning breaches of the levee system).

That doesn't mean FEMA shouldn't have better sources of actual information than Anderson Cooper or Shephard Smith, but anyone on TV or in the print media who claims they were reporting on Monday night on the havoc that would ensue in the upcoming days in New Orleans is lying.

Posted by: John at September 12, 2005 3:24 PM


Yes, that was everyone's sense. You didn't even start inundating me with whiny e-mails for two days after that.

Posted by: oj at September 12, 2005 3:37 PM

My mental image of the Monday night coverage is Shep standing in a dry French Quarter.

The leading quote from a New Orleans resident in the WaPost's Tuesday morning story: "This wasn't it."

But it was.

Posted by: George B at September 12, 2005 4:39 PM

USA Today, September 29:

But there was also a sense that New Orleans, where residents have been blessed with good fortune in never suffering the storm that could destroy their below-sea-level city, had dodged a bullet.

This Star-Trib editorial from the 30th is worth reading, too.

Posted by: Timothy at September 12, 2005 6:37 PM

Bet some of the bistros will be open for business this weekend.

Posted by: erp [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 12, 2005 6:50 PM