Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 8, 2010

ANOTHER NARRATIVE BITES THE DUST.... For several days, the national media seemed heavily invested in characterizing the BP oil spill disaster as "Obama's Katrina." Major, mainstream outlets -- not just Limbaugh and Fox News -- "concocted the absurd 'Obama's Katrina' claim in the first place, and then helped actively push it. Journalists did it by pointing to mostly faceless, imaginary 'critics' of the Obama administration in order to float the phony storyline."

But it didn't take. It may have had something to do with the intervention of other world events -- the attempted terrorism in Times Square, the European debt crisis, the British elections -- but vague criticism of the administration's response to the Gulf was relatively short-lived. Even conservatives found it easily dismissible.

When House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind.) held a press conference to blast the president's handling of the issue mid-week, he couldn't explain why he was unsatisfied, and most of the political world found it best to just blow off his shallow nonsense.

While the oil spill disaster remains an ongoing crisis -- indeed, oil continues to gush into the Gulf as I type -- the questions surrounding the speed of the Obama administration's response seem to have been answered. To the wire service's credit, the AP's H. Josef Hebert and Erica Werner published a lengthy report this morning on the "aggressive" federal response to the disaster.

The Gulf region, ravaged five years earlier by Hurricane Katrina, was on the verge of a second ecological disaster. Would there be a repeat of the bureaucratic bungling that marked President George W. Bush's response to the hurricane?

While the Obama administration has faced second-guessing about the speed and effectiveness of some of its actions, a narrative pieced together by The Associated Press, based on documents, interviews and public statements, shows little resemblance to Katrina in either the characterization of the threat or the federal government's response.

Reading the detailed piece, it's hard to imagine how the administration's response, given the information available, could have been better. That's cold comfort given the severity of the huge oil spill and the ecological, economic, and environmental consequences. No matter how efficient and thorough the administration's response, the disaster is no less a disaster. Taking the White House off the to-be-blamed list isn't as important as the ongoing effort to deal with the crisis itself.

Nevertheless, the political drive to blame President Obama for a sluggish response looks increasingly ridiculous.

The White House's detractors will have to find something else to obsess over. The Katrina comparison, comically flawed when it was first raised, has been proven baseless.

Steve Benen 11:20 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

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It would seem that criticisms of Bush's Katrina response hurt much more than they ever let on. It must have been miserable trying to defend the administration in those days. Unfortunately the salve they are look for isn't here.

Posted by: Alan on May 8, 2010 at 11:32 AM | PERMALINK

since when is "oil spill cleanups" an enumerated power of the Federal government in the U. S. Constitution? Doesn't the Tenth Amendment mean anything to the Obama maladministration?

Posted by: Wingnut Wilson on May 8, 2010 at 11:35 AM | PERMALINK

I'm hoping that wingnut is just being sarcastic. The first oil wells in this country weren't developed until the 19th century. Of course the constitution doesn't say anything about air traffic control either.

Posted by: wordtypist on May 8, 2010 at 11:45 AM | PERMALINK

Alan: if Katrina had hit in August 2004 instead of 2005, there's a good chance Bush would not have been re-elected. Katrina was a vivid demonstration of something we Democrats knew all along: the Emperor had no clothes.

wordtypist: I think Wingnut Wilson's comment was snark.

Posted by: dalloway on May 8, 2010 at 11:50 AM | PERMALINK

Why wouldn't the media try to contact the Gulf Coast governors, especially Bobby Jindal? My guess is that they would not have helped push the narrative.

What is also worrisome is that the US Government and the responsible companies set up websites or dedicated pages on their current sites to cover the spill response in detail.

If you read the play-by-play on WhiteHouse.gov, it is also obvious that the president and his cabinet was engaged from the beginning. Either that or they have given a long list of easily disproved details of the timeline.

Remember that for two days the rig was on fire and for another day or two there was a rescue effort. The rig itself had 700,000 gallons of diesel fuel. Only inspection of the 5000 feet of pipeline revealed the extent of the leak.

Posted by: tomj on May 8, 2010 at 11:54 AM | PERMALINK

And what was/ is the 'motivation' of the 'the media' to do this in the first place ? no greater example of the corporate/repiglican media in it's evil efforts to manipulate public perception it in ongoing efforts to destroy Obama. And, amazingly, Steve you should have pointed out that these efforts BEGAN WITH THE AP ITSELF as documented over at Media Matters. There is a person called 'blue' from Denmark who from time to time shows up on this site and who keeps saying to us that it is our corporate media that is our biggest enemy. I think he must be right.

Posted by: stormskies on May 8, 2010 at 11:59 AM | PERMALINK

Clearly, the D.C. bureau of the AP had nothing to do with the referenced article. Ron Fournier would have taken the banner and marched at the head of the slow response demonstration.

Posted by: CDW on May 8, 2010 at 12:12 PM | PERMALINK

With propaganda assholes like Mr. Ron Fournier established in top media positions nationally, the Repugnant Party can wallow in shit that has been "proven baseless" all they want.

It is Mr. Fournier's self-appointed and dishonorable job to make as much of that shit as possible stink up the public consciousness.

Dante, in his grand metaphor of hell, had it right about assholes like Fournier...

Posted by: neill on May 8, 2010 at 12:28 PM | PERMALINK

Who are you quoting in the first paragraph?

"concocted the absurd 'Obama's Katrina' claim in the first place, and then helped actively push it. Journalists did it by pointing to mostly faceless, imaginary 'critics' of the Obama administration in order to float the phony storyline."

Posted by: MS on May 8, 2010 at 12:29 PM | PERMALINK

cooling european added warmest

Posted by: huxfordfor on May 8, 2010 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK

The now transparent Obamahaters are our not so friendly neighbors who would show up in an instant for a good old fashion fist fight with concealed weapons just in case - know what I'm saying!

Pass the word - if hearing nonsense regarding our duly elected president, please disregard, but if possible, engage to help educate.

My Jesus Christ in Heaven, so many Americans are ignorant regarding their actual needs and interests, and are now being cynically channeled into a mobocracy, please help those who need your assistance ;-) -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on May 8, 2010 at 1:04 PM | PERMALINK

Why would Republicans want to remind us of Katrina?

Posted by: Rick Taylor on May 8, 2010 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

"It doesn't matter if it's true or not, it's out there"

I think we need to start a conversation about epistemic closure in The Village.

Posted by: Jim on May 8, 2010 at 1:20 PM | PERMALINK

Rick Taylor makes an excellent and interesting point - the failure of the Republicans to make this "Obama's Katrina" in spite of the enthusiastic help of most MSM has reminded everyone of what a clusterfuck that catastrophe really was, without the payoff of making this one just as much of a political disaster.

You'd think they'd be happier to just see Katrina fade away in the minds of everyone but Louisianans, instead of jogging everyone's memory. More suggestion that the Republicans are not thinking and planning so much as merely reacting.

Posted by: Mark on May 8, 2010 at 1:38 PM | PERMALINK

It has been the GOP's MO for years....immediately start flinging charges and see if you can get them to stick....the flow from Drudge to Fox (or vice versa) to the MSM is the usual route. Some of it flops, but enough of it gets traction that it is worth the effort...especially when your own party has nothing substantive to offer in terms of actually dealing with real life challenges.

Worst of all, it is so transparently concocted. How many times have we seen the clips (usually from Jon Stewart ironically) in which rows of pundits mouth the same exact stock phrases of criticism...read right off the latest fax from Grover Norquist's office.

Posted by: dweb on May 8, 2010 at 1:51 PM | PERMALINK

The oil spill as "Obama's Katrina" theme was a Category 1 flop, so the right wing had to pivot quickly to its new theme, which is: the oil spill as deliberate sabotage so Obama could prevent future off-shore drilling. Who knows what will be next after that one flops too.

We can only hope that one of these days conservatives will begin talking sensibly about public policy issues instead of dialing up Frank Luntz to whip up some new "narratives" to exploit our problems for political gain. But don't hold your breath.

Posted by: Ted Frier on May 8, 2010 at 2:00 PM | PERMALINK

It's part of the Cons open desire to have the President fail. The want him to fail so badly that they'll jump on anything to make it so.

Posted by: JWK on May 8, 2010 at 3:04 PM | PERMALINK

the oil spill as deliberate sabotage so Obama could prevent future off-shore drilling.

That one never passed the laugh test. But the TPM reader had it right: it was just a Trojan horse to get the idea that Obama was slow to respond into the public consciousness -- classic argument over, "So when exactly did you stop beating your wife?"

Important to engage on the real point there, which is that the response was not slow.

Posted by: Equal Opportunity Cynic on May 8, 2010 at 3:05 PM | PERMALINK

Perhaps the lack of pictures of floating, bloated bodies has something to do with it. Or no pictures of the inability to get even bottled water to the superdome for five days, or the fact that the hurricane had been barreling towards new orleans for days and concerns about the levees and emergency plans had been voiced before the storm even hit -- and then re-emphasized later when briefings to the president were made public.
The incompetence of our war leaders was brought home in a way pictures of dead iraqis just couldn't do.

Posted by: patrick II on May 8, 2010 at 3:49 PM | PERMALINK

The events are too different to be directly compared.

If this oil gusher isn't contained, it will stain the Obama administration as deeply as Katrina does the Republicans.

Posted by: Doug on May 8, 2010 at 3:52 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, the AP belatedly shot down their own initially propagated "Katrina lie." Like every other lie the corporate media pushes this one, ridiculous as it was has the cumulative effect of deepening distrust and cynicism within the segment of the public not tuned into the ongoing political shenanigans like we are. Really who could "disbelieve" the Associated Press? But that is their whole point. That is precisely why these drip drip drip strategies are in fact undeservedly dinging the President's performance.

The second reason is also the fact that at last we are finding out about the debauchery taking place on the rig before disaster struck, along with the statements of the oil rig workers revealing the methane gas bubble causing the explosion.

The AP is doing this about face on the Katrina nonsense to save its face. It is simply bailing the sinking ship. As the investigation/hearings proceed the egregious behavior of BP will damn the corporate media once more for abandoning what should have been the real story about Big Oil, and instead latching onto Obama conspiracy nonsense.

Make no mistake, this adjustment is only temporary, until the next manufactured scandal comes along, that is...well you know... Sigh.

Posted by: zizi on May 8, 2010 at 4:01 PM | PERMALINK

As you said, the Katrina comparison is "comically flawed" and "has been proven baseless," but since when do cold, hard facts put an end to right-wing spin and MSM complicity? Expect the "blame Obama, not BP" narrative to continue despite the AP story.

Posted by: ameshall on May 8, 2010 at 4:03 PM | PERMALINK

We hear about the reasons here already, but I still want a deeper dig into WTF happened to the WPC and their really ratty reporting about Obama (even as, of course, some asshole dextro cartoonist shows the MSM wiping "oil" off a duck Obama.) Have their owners gotten more blatantly anti-Democrat, have the standards gone down, both or more? REM when their main problem was, too cozy with WH so they could get good access? Well, why isn't that logic working in Obama's favor now ... I guess story dynamics and assholism about following cliché story lines is part of it, but I think there's definite opposition there.

Posted by: neil b on May 8, 2010 at 4:14 PM | PERMALINK

Never fear, Steve, they're already on the case, trying to blame him for the attempted bombing in Times Square. At least they haven't had the gall to call it his "9/11," since the comparisons would be much too embarrassing.

Posted by: T-Rex on May 8, 2010 at 4:17 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe offtopic, but have you noticed that no one seems to be saying a word about the 11 missing oil rig workers?

Isn't it odd that they are mourned less than those tragically lost in the recent WV mining disaster?

That's a lot of people who died at an American workplace.

Posted by: Elizabelle on May 8, 2010 at 6:42 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry to throw cold water on a really good talking point dalloway, but if Katrina had happened in 2004 instead of 2005 you would have seen a really amazing FEMA response.

I say this because I remember Florida got hit with a really bad hurricane before the 2004 elections and they got fantastic response. You couldn't walk 10 steps without tripping over a FEMA worker who wanted to help. I remember this so well because many commentators remarked how the Katrina response was so different from the Florida one.

That is one of the reasons I have believed that the Bush administration did such a poor job on Katrina, there were no more elections for Bush. Florida was to buy votes.

Posted by: madstork123 on May 8, 2010 at 7:20 PM | PERMALINK

Again, find me ONE right-winger who cared about Katrina or thought the response was inadequate **while it was happening**.

All we got at the time was "heckuva job Brownie" and "all the white people got out so was it really a disaster?"

Posted by: Steve Simitzis on May 8, 2010 at 7:21 PM | PERMALINK

The Bush administration deliberately withheld federal emergency disaster aid from New Orleans and Louisiana for partisan political reasons, leaving U.S. citizens in New Orleans stranded on rooftops, leaving U.S. citizens without clean water or food to fend for themselves in New Orleans, leaving U.S. citizens to die in New Orleans.

Afterward, the corrupt Bush administration politicized the recovery by awarding no-bid contracts to Republicans-only operatives and companies, so U.S. taxpayer money would only benefit Republicans and no one else.

The Obama administration's response to the BP oil spill/underwater gusher doesn't even come close to the outright criminality and corruption of the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld administration's response to Hurricane Katrina.

On the other hand, Raw Story has a link to a McClatchy article:

WASHINGTON — Since the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig exploded on April 20, the Obama administration has granted oil and gas companies at least 27 exemptions from doing in-depth environmental studies of oil exploration and production in the Gulf of Mexico.

The waivers were granted despite President Barack Obama’s vow that his administration would launch a “relentless response effort” to stop the leak and prevent more damage to the gulf. One of them was dated Friday — the day after Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said he was temporarily halting offshore drilling

The exemptions, known as “categorical exclusions,” were granted by the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service (MMS) and included waiving detailed environmental studies for a BP exploration plan to be conducted at a depth of more than 4,000 feet and an Anadarko Petroleum Corp. exploration plan at more 9,000 feet.

Read more: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2010/05/07/93761/despite-spill-feds-still-giving.html#ixzz0nNqDRTSC

Posted by: The Oracle on May 8, 2010 at 7:41 PM | PERMALINK

Of course what the Repos and their talking heads always leave out is that Bush had 5 days forwarning and the whole hurricaine season to prepare.
It's not like hurricaines hitting the states on the Gulf Coast and the East Coast all the way to New Foundland is a rare occurrance.

Posted by: Marnie on May 8, 2010 at 8:09 PM | PERMALINK

I find the fact that Republicans haven't yet tarred Obama with this disaster cold comfort. The fact is this is an ongoing calamity, that has yet to reach its peak. What the Gulf oil spill does have is the potential to expose Obama's Achille's heel- his neo-liberal ideals and his too close relationship with corporate America.

Posted by: spiny on May 8, 2010 at 8:13 PM | PERMALINK

Narratives have momentum. People could understand Katrina as a monumental failure for Bush because of the missing WMD in Iraq. If the health Care bill had not been passed, the Gulf oil spill would have been told as an Obama failure, pointing out his foolishness in conceding for offshore drilling and then having an oil rig blow up. But HCR did pass and a new narrative is being created -- that the Obama administration is competent and responsible. Now, the mainstream media starts to compare the GOP criticisms to the narrative that they are now coming to hold. And the GOP is seen for as ridiculous as they are.

Posted by: tom in ma on May 8, 2010 at 8:41 PM | PERMALINK

Granted Deepwater isn't Obama's Katrina. But as the wag says, history never repeats but it does rhyme.

Obama has not handled the oil drilling issue all that well, frankly, and he CONTINUES to fumble it politically. Steve, I don't think you do the White House any favors by pretending otherwise.

Late March, Obama announced a 180-degree turn-around from his own campaign promise not to allow drilling that would endanger the Gulf coast. In a single stroke he alienated a significant part of his base across the nation. Bad timing, yes; but also bad politics and bad policy.

The bad politics is that Obama for whatever good or bad reasons related to Lindsay Graham and the cap-and-trade bill, publicly aligned himself with some of the worst Republican dinosaurs in the South. This not only is a slap in the face to a lot of moderate Democrats like Bill Nelson (D-Fl), it emboldened all the right-wing, drill-happy reactionary retainers of the oil industry like Richard Shelby.

It's fairly clear to those who pay attention to the details that Obama intended to push off new drilling permits until 2016 or later. The White House may have seen that as a clever way to buy time, not particularly as a pro-drilling move. But it also very much threatened to hamstring his anti-drilling supports -- until the BP well blew up.

When the inevitable actually happened, Obama wound up looking to everyone along the Gulf coast as if he'd been caught swimming in an oil slick with the reactionaries -- and none are likely to escape the wrath people are feeling for those who promoted drilling.

Regarding policy, yes, Obama has now said 'no new drilling until we know what happened.' (That is, incidentally, EXACTLY the same mealy-mouthed position almost all the pro-drilling pols are taking for the moment.) But Mineral Management Services belongs to him, now, and as McClatchy News reports today that subagency of the Interior Dept. has CONTINUED to issue "waivers" to oil drilling companies exempting them from doing any environmental studies before getting drilling permits. ["Since Spill Feds Have Given 27 Waivers to Oil Companies in the Gulf"].

I was an Obama supporter. Still am, to some degree. But if he's blowing it big-time on the Deepwater disaster. If he's to have any hope of recovering lost ground and missed opportunities, he has to hurry up and rush to the front of his base to look like he's leading them -- or he'll be composing his own rhymes to Katrina.

MMS long has been a deeply corrupt and largely incompetent agency. The sex and drug scandals under Bush were just the latest evidence of that.

Obama can do himself, and the world's sea life, a lot of good by freezing all MMS permit application activity in place, right now -- not just the issuance of drilling permits. Next, fire the nudniks at MMS and Interior who helped get us to the brink of killing the Gulf of Mexico.

Finally, come clean with the public and tell them the truth: our thirst for energy led us to explore imprudently. Alternative energy must be jumped started faster than we thought. We are running out of time. No more deep water drilling, period.

You know, the way this is going to work out we could have built hundreds or even thousands of alt-energy businesses with the treasure that's going down the drain with the BP oil catastrophe.

Posted by: John B. on May 8, 2010 at 9:51 PM | PERMALINK

This is just an excuse to take our guns away.

Seriously though--I hope this wakes up Obama to the many, many, MANY regulatory and other ticking time bombs left by his predecessor. Bush wasn't incompetent so much as maliciously apathetic. Anyone surprised by the fact that Bush had allowed oil companies complete latitude to police themselves is just stupid. The administration needs to double-quick examine every aspect of environmental regulation and excoriate his predecessor with each catch and correction. There is no reason to play nice with people that evil or irresponsible. Lives are at stake.

Posted by: Sparko on May 8, 2010 at 9:53 PM | PERMALINK

I don't think it's any surprise that Benen looks at the Obama Administration handling the oil spill and finds them, well, wonderful yet again. I believe for Steve the wonderfulness and perfection of the Obama team really knows no bounds.

Still, I think the whole "Obama's Katrina" thing is overblown; the right continues to resent the fact that Katrina response was seen as failing and that Bush was blamed, and has grasped, with pretty much every disaster, to label it an "Obama Katrina" moment. I think the main reason that this time attracted more interest was that we were, again, looking at a disaster in Louisiana and along the gulf coast.

And, I suspect, were there already oil onshore and lots of sad pictures of oil covered birds, the storyline might have more staying power; thus, as much as this about good response, it also seems a good bit was the luck of weather and tides. And also that the oil industry is not very popular.

I think the response has been... adequate, though not necessarily inspiring or especially proactive. And that tends to be a reminder about the real failing that Katrina embodies much as other disaster stories do: we're not bad at reacting to immediate disasters and rescue efforts; we're less good, as a nation, at responses that require longterm, sustained action. Whether we responded well to this oil spill is not something we will know tomorrow or in a week; we will know, in years, just how much of a disaster this was... and then we may realize that more or different things should have been done. As a short term, immediate response though...the Obama one will do. That doesn't make them genius, just adequate.

Posted by: weboy on May 9, 2010 at 12:32 AM | PERMALINK

Let's see, the oil spill is Obama's Katrina. The underwear bomber was Obama's Katrina. H1N1 was Obama's Katrina. Haiti was Obama's Katrina. The GM Bankruptcy was Obama's Katrina. The Ft. Hood shootings were Obama's Katrina. Even the Kentucky ice storms were Obama's Katrina. Hasn't the right wing ever heard the story of the "Boy Who Cried Wolf"? What's almost as bad is that the so-called liberal media seems complicit in this spin.

I can't tell you how many times in almost 5 years that I've heard conservatives yell that Katrina was something that should have been handled by the locals. This in spite of the fact that it was larger than 9/11, the Oklahoma City Bombing, the Northridge California earthquake and the San Diego firestorms combined.

Now these same folks, many led by Rush Limbaugh are saying that the oil spill, which is the fault of a private corporation IS suddenly the responsibility of the Federal Government. How hypocritical can they get? And to think in 2008 how many right wing media members lied that Katrina didn't cause any oil spills and therefore we should be expanding oil drilling in the Gulf.

Paul Harris
Author, "Diary From the Dome, Reflections on Fear and Privilege During Katrina"

Posted by: Paul Harris on May 9, 2010 at 5:02 AM | PERMALINK

Maybe this O's K narrative "bit the dust" for rational people, but keep an eye on Faux Tea-vee. I don't think they'll ever let it go.

BTW, latest ad on Drudge is sometime from "United States Of Earth": 2011: Obama's Coup Fails."
2011 Obama's Coup Fails is part of an online Social Movement masked as a game which fuses education and entertainment to help keep America a Free nation. ...
What suckers for corporatocracy. That's the real threat to our freedoms.

Posted by: Neil B on May 9, 2010 at 7:57 AM | PERMALINK

Why would Republicans want to remind us of Katrina?

Good question. It is logically nuts. But their ownership of the frame, nutty as it is, once again makes the Dems look like deer caught in the headlights.

Posted by: Bob M on May 9, 2010 at 9:18 AM | PERMALINK

Maybe offtopic, but have you noticed that no one seems to be saying a word about the 11 missing oil rig workers? . . . Isn't it odd that they are mourned less than those tragically lost in the recent WV mining disaster?

Well, if the WV mining disaster had caused a earthquake or fire that threatened most of four states, the deaths of the miners would not have gotten as many headlines. There's only so much air time available on the evening news, after all.

There were several dozen loggers who died unnecessarily when Mount St. Helens blew up, because their corporate employers got exemptions from the evacuation zone. It just happened that the exploding volcano used up all the air time for the next few months.

Posted by: Midland on May 9, 2010 at 10:55 AM | PERMALINK

Faux News is beyond redemption. But the UK Guardian? I don't think so.

"The Obama administration waived environmental reviews for 26 new offshore drilling projects even as the BP oil disaster spewed hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, environmental activists said today."

Oil spill: US failing to tighten ecological oversight, say activists

Hate to say "I told you so" to Steve Benen, whose work I usually admire. But I told you so.

Posted by: John B. on May 9, 2010 at 6:23 PM | PERMALINK

At least the Right knows that the Katrina label/response is/was a terrible thing. Otherwise they wouldn't be trying to smear Obama with it.

Maybe the oil spill will motivate them to join environmentalists to make sure it doesn't happen again.

Posted by: Doug Noland on May 9, 2010 at 7:39 PM | PERMALINK



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