Allegations President Bush staged photo-ops in aftermath of Hurricane Katrina tragedy

Tuesday, September 6, 2005

In a press release issued Saturday, September 3rd, 2005, Democratic Senator Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana claims that President Bush staged a photo opportunity, at the breached 17th Street levee, by having equipment quickly moved into the background during the event. Senator Landrieu says the equipment was dispersed elsewhere the next day, but did not provide details.

Landrieu says in her press release, " ... we witnessed a hastily prepared stage set for a Presidential photo opportunity; and the desperately needed resources we saw were this morning reduced to a single, lonely piece of equipment. The good and decent people of southeast Louisiana and the Gulf Coast -- black and white, rich and poor, young and old -- deserve far better from their national government ..."

The President and Senator Landrieu toured the 17th Street levee on Friday, and held the photo-op. Senator Landrieu said she believed the repair effort was legitimate, at that time. Less than 24 hours later, she discovered only "one lonely crane" working on the site, while giving an aerial tour for ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos. A video of her tearful comments, during that tour, has been circulating around the internet (WMV).

17th Street Canal wall breach, Wednesday August 31.

Senator Landrieu made no specific accusations about the photo-op during the ABC tour. However, neither does her press release describe any measures taken to verify that equipment was in-fact pulled from other projects for the purpose of the photo-op, nor where the equipment is now. The canal wall breach, near Hammond Highway, was later shown Sunday on CBS' 60 Minutes with dump trucks and a power shovel building a single-lane pathway across the gap. The breach was closed Monday.

Senator Landrieu was herself criticized by Anderson Cooper (CNN) on Thursday, after she responded to a question by rattling off a list of "thank yous" to other politicians (WMV, transcript). Democratic pundits have excused such detachment as an attempt to gain more federal assistance during the tragedy. Senator Landrieu's press release partially confirms this interpretation by attempting to simultaneously ask the president for more aid, while accusing him of misusing existing resources.

17th Street Canal engineering

17th Street Canal work on Sept 4.

Although press reports mentioned the 17th Street Canal breach was blocked by the use of metal sheets, sandbags, and dumped fill, details were not available. On Wednesday September 7 it was reported that earlier metal girders, often used for retaining walls, had been hung down from the north side of the Hammond Highway bridge so as to form a metal wall which blocked the canal from the lake. After the breach had been closed, by sandbags and fill delivered by dump truck, the metal wall was opened to allow draining of the city through the canal.

Obviously placing the metal wall required an assortment of equipment which was no longer needed after it was in place. The wall was only visible from the bridge and most dry land as a few feet of metal along the bridge railing. It is not known if Senator Landrieu noticed this work of engineering, nor if she had been briefed as to what was being done.

However, photos of work at the site were later found which showed a lot of activity Sept 4, after Landrieu said the equipment was not there. However, the sheet piling wall in the photo was reported to have been completed September 2. Information of the schedule of similar work at the London Avenue breach has not been found.

Biloxi event

In related news, Germany's ZDF News reported that the president's visit to Biloxi was largely a staged event(video). Their onsite crew claimed that an "open air food distribution point Bush visited in front of the cameras was torn down immediately after the president and the herd of news people had left", and alleges that others being set up were abandoned at the same time. Christine Adelhardt of Germany's ARD Tagesschau said "the extent of the staging is shocking me [as much as the disaster.]" She also claimed that, for the purpose of such photo-ops, heavy equipment was being moved to areas which would not require it (video). Senator Landrieu has not complained about any other staged photo-ops, nor has the American press accused the president's press team off any impropriety.