To ABC's Surprise, Katrina Victims Praise Bush and Blame Nagin
Posted by Brent Baker on September 15, 2005 - 17:50.
ABC News producers probably didn't hear what they expected when they sent Dean Reynolds to the Houston Astrodome's parking lot to get reaction to President Bush's speech from black evacuees from New Orleans. Instead of denouncing Bush and blaming him for their plight, they praised Bush and blamed local officials. Reynolds asked Connie London: "Did you harbor any anger toward the President because of the slow federal response?" She rejected the premise: "No, none whatsoever, because I feel like our city and our state government should have been there before the federal government was called in.” She pointed out: “They had RTA buses, Greyhound buses, school buses, that was just sitting there going under water when they could have been evacuating people."
Not one of the six people interviewed on camera had a bad word for Bush -- despite Reynolds' best efforts. Reynolds goaded: "Was there anything that you found hard to believe that he said, that you thought, well, that's nice rhetoric, but, you know, the proof is in the pudding?" Brenda Marshall answered, "No, I didn't," prompting Reynolds to marvel to anchor Ted Koppel: "Very little skepticism here.”
Reynolds pressed another woman: “Did you feel that the President was sincere tonight?" She affirmed: "Yes, he was." Reynolds soon wondered who they held culpable for the levee breaks. Unlike the national media, London did not blame supposed Bush-mandated budget cuts: "They've been allocated federal funds to fix the levee system, and it never got done. I fault the mayor of our city personally. I really do."
Full transcript follows. Video excerpt: RealPlayer or Windows Media. Plus MP3
The MRC's Rich Noyes alerted me to the reactions ABC broadcast.
Immediately after Bush finished his speech from Jackson Square in New Orleans, at about 8:26pm local CDT, Ted Koppel, anchor of ABC's hour-long coverage, went to Dean Reynolds who was outside in a parking lot with a group of black people from New Orleans who are living at the Reliant Center next to the Astrodome.
(No names were provided on-screen for those interviewed, so I only have first names for two, and no name for one, of the six.)
Reynolds elicited reaction from the group sitting in chairs: “I'd like to get the reaction of Connie London who spent several horrible hours at the Superdome. You heard the President say retpeaedly that you are not alone, that the country stands beside you. Do you believe him?”
Connie London: “Yeah, I believe him, because here in Texas, they have truly been good to us. I mean-”
Reynolds: “Did you get a sense of hope that you could return to your home one day in New Orleans?”
London: “Yes, I did. I did.”
Reynolds: “Did you harbor any anger toward the President because of the slow federal response?”
London: “No, none whatsoever, because I feel like our city and our state government should have been there before the federal government was called in. They should have been on their jobs.”
Reynolds: “And they weren't?”
London: “No, no, no, no. Lord, they wasn't. I mean, they had RTA buses, Greyhound buses, school buses, that was just sitting there going under water when they could have been evacuating people.”
Reynolds: “Now, Mary, you were rescued from your house which was basically submerged in your neighborhood. Did you hear something in the President's words that you could glean some hope from?”
Mary: “Yes. He said we're coming back, and I believe we're coming back. He's going to build the city up. I believe that.”
Reynolds: “You believe you'll be able to return to your home?”
Mary: “Yes, I do.”
Mary: “Because I really believe what he said. I believe. I got faith.”
Reynolds: “Back here in the corner, we've got Brenda Marshall, right?”
Brenda Marshall: “Yes.”
Reynolds: “Now, Brenda, you were, spent, what, several days at the Superdome, correct?”
Marshall: “Yes, I did.”
Reynolds: “What did you think of what the President told you tonight?”
Marshall: “Well, I think -- I think the speech was wonderful, you know, him specifying that we will return back and that we will have like mobile homes, you know, rent or whatever. I was listening to that pretty good. But I think it was a well fine speech.”
Reynolds: “Was there any particular part of it that stood out in your mind? I mean, I saw you all nod when he said the Crescent City is going to come back one day.”
Marshall: “Well, I think I was more excited about what he said. That's probably why I nodded.”
Reynolds: “Was there anything that you found hard to believe that he said, that you thought, well, that's nice rhetoric, but, you know, the proof is in the pudding?”
Marshall: “No, I didn't.”
Reynolds: “Good. Well, very little skepticism here. Frederick Gould, did you hear something that you could hang on to tonight from the President?”
Frederick Gould: “Well, I just know, you know, he said good things to me, you know, what he said, you know. I was just trying to listen to everything they were saying, you know.”
Reynolds: “And Cecilia, did you feel that the President was sincere tonight?”
Cecilia: “Yes, he was.”
Reynolds: “Do you think this is a little too late, or do you think he's got a handle on the situation?”
Cecilia: “To me it was a little too late. It was too late, but he should have did something more about it.”
Reynolds: “Now do you all believe that you will one day return to your homes?”
Voices: “Yes” and “I do.”
Reynolds: “I mean, do you all want to return to your homes? We're hearing some people don't even want to go back.”
Mary: “I want to go back.”
Reynolds: “You want to go back.”
Mary: “I want to go back. That's my home. That's all I know.”
Reynolds: “Is it your home for your whole life?”
Mary: “Right. That's my home.”
Reynolds: “And do you expect to go back to the house or a brand new dwelling or what?”
Mary: “I expect to go back to something. I know it ain't my house, because it's gone.”
Reynolds: “What is the one mistake that could have been prevented that would have made your lives much better? Is it simply getting all of you out much sooner or what was it?”
Mary: “I'm going to tell you the truth. I had the opportunity to get out, but I didn't believe it. So I stayed there till it was too late.”
Reynolds: “Did you all have the same feeling? I mean, did you all have the opportunity to get out, but you were skeptical that this was the really bad one?”
Unnamed woman: “No, I got out when they said evacuate. I got out that Sunday and I left before the storm came. But I know they could have did better than what they did because like they said, buses were just sitting there, and they could have came through there and got people out, because they were saying immediate evacuation. Some people didn't believe it. But they should have brung the force of the army through to help these people and make them understand it really was coming.”
London: “And really it wasn't Hurricane Katrina that really tore up the city. It was when they opened the floodgates. It was not the hurricane itself. It was the floodgates, when they opened the floodgates, that's where all the water came.”
Reynolds: “Do you blame anybody for this?”
London: “Yes. I mean, they've been allocated federal funds to fix the levee system, and it never got done. I fault the mayor of our city personally. I really do.”
Reynolds: “All right. Well, thank you all very much. I wish you all the best of luck. I hope you don't have to spend too much more time here in the Reliant Center and you can get back to New Orleans as the President said. Ted, that is the word from the Houston Astrodome. And as I said, when the President said that the Crescent City will rise again, there were nods all around this parking lot.”
UPDATE: On Friday’s Good Morning America, Jessica Yellin avoided the pro-Bush consensus of those shown on ABC the night before and characterized the reaction of evacuees as “mixed,” a description she managed to support by running a clip from a woman in a different location.
On the September 16 GMA, Yellin reported: "Evacuees watching the speech from Baton Rouge and Houston had mixed reviews."
Woman outside at Astrodome, in clip from ABC’s Thursday night coverage: "He said we're coming back, and I believe we're coming back. He's going to build the city up. I believe that.”
Woman inside in Baton Rouge: "All they can do is tell you what they're going to do. We need something done now. Yesterday."
SECOND UPDATE: At the start of the roundtable on Sunday’s This Week, with Sam Donaldson, Cokie Roberts and George Will, host George Stephanopoulos observed: “I was watching on ABC on Thursday night. Some of the victims we collected in Houston loved it. They loved every single word.”