Sunday, March 01, 2009

Talking Points Memo bollixes the Jindal "during Katrina" thing

The leftward hemiblogosphere is suffering something of a domino effect of disinformation regarding a factoid in Bobby Jindal's rebuttal to President Obama's ~SOTU speech.

Talking Points Memo was instrumental in signaling the downfall of the sky. I'll show how they went awry.

The relevant portion of Jindal's speech:
During Katrina, I visited Sheriff Harry Lee, a Democrat and a good friend of mine. When I walked into his makeshift office, I'd never seen him so angry. He was yelling into the phone: "Well, I'm the Sheriff and if you don't like it you can come and arrest me!" I asked him: "Sheriff, what's got you so mad?" He told me that he had put out a call for volunteers to come with their boats to rescue people who were trapped on their rooftops by the floodwaters. The boats were all lined up ready to go, when some bureaucrat showed up and told them they couldn't go out on the water unless they had proof of insurance and registration. I told him, "Sheriff, that's ridiculous." And before I knew it, he was yelling into the phone: "Congressman Jindal is here, and he says you can come and arrest him too!" Harry just told the boaters to ignore the bureaucrats and go start rescuing people.
The folks at TPM think that Jindal may well have been dishonest with the above.
(T)here are several pieces of evidence that suggest this just didn't happen. Nothing, to be sure, that definitively proves the story was made up. But more than enough to declare it highly suspicious.
On with the evidence.
First, Jindal's story has Lee railing against the red-tape in the midst of the crisis. But Lee, the sheriff of Jefferson Parish in suburban New Orleans, told CNN he didn't find out about the license and registration issue until about seven days after the incident.
Good point, but we don't know whether the problem is the timing or the inclusion of the detail about license and registration. Not based on this evidence, anyway.

The rest of the case is farmed out to "Daily Kos diarist xgz" and paraphrased by Zachary Roth of TMP Muckraker.
According to numerous reports, Harry Lee did not leave the affected area of New Orleans during the crisis. But there is no reported evidence of Jindal having set foot in the area during the period when people were still stranded on roofs -- which, based on a review of news stories from the time, was only until September 3 at the very latest. Indeed, the evidence strongly suggests he did not...
The supposed evidence consists of the fact that Jindal was out of the country when Katrina hit, plus the author's inability to find evidence that Jindal was on the ground in or near New Orleans during Katrina's immediate aftermath. The appeal to silence does not make for a strong suggestion unless the evidence is exhaustive. This author doesn't give us that. He lists only a search of Lexis Nexis as the basis for his findings. As though newspapers and magazines compile a satisfactory historical record.

One might end up overlooking something like this:
Jindal surveyed the room for a few minutes. Then he saw Blanco and the others pause to look at a television in the corner—it was footage from another press conference they’d had the previous day, broadcasting on CNN. The politicians all stood around, watching themselves on the screen.

Jindal turned to his chief of staff, and said, “Let’s go.”

They climbed into a Ford Excursion and took off looking for what they could do to help. They started with Harry Lee, the infamous Sheriff of Jefferson Parish.
(Ben Domenech, posted at Red State in 2007)
So far I've only found reports of a press conference involving the major players for Tuesday, Aug. 30. TPM mentions that as one of two Katrina press conferences on its Katrina time line page. If it is the same press conference, then that places Jindal with Sheriff Lee near New Orleans on Wednesday, Aug 31, two days following the storm. And that time line seems to agree closely with what Sheriff Lee reported in person:
The day after, Bobby was in my office saying "What do you need?" And it wasn't, it wasn't phone calls, he was in my office ...
Lee's account doesn't match perfectly, of course. His account seems to imply that Jindal was in his office on Tuesday instead of Wednesday. I think it's most likely he misspoke, perhaps because of a faulty history in his own mind.

Back to TPM:
Schedule issues aside, it's also noticeable that Jindal has talked or written several times before about the problems of excessive red tape during Katrina, but has never told this story.
Apparently he has:

By the measure many left wing bloggers (along with Keith Olbermann) have used to judge Jindal, that makes TPM liars.

TPM goes on to add another dust mote to the weight of evidence by citing another opportunity that Jindal missed in recounting the boat anecdote.

Then comes the summary:
As we said, none of this settles the question definitively. But it certainly raises a whole lot of questions about Jindal's tale. Those questions were enough for MSNBC's Keith Olbermann, in a short segment last night on the controversy, to conclude that the story is "apparently not true."
And here's a realistic summary: It is normal for accounts of the same events to differ in detail, even to the point of discrepancy. Jindal may have supplied the detail about the reason FEMA discouraged the boat flotilla based on subsequent knowledge. Lee may have been wrong about the specific day that Jindal reached his office, depending on what he counted as "the day after." The gist of the story, that federal government beaurocracy (among other things) hindered getting aid to New Orleans, remains intact. The supposition that Jindal aggrandized himself by making it appear that Lee had not already sent the boats in prior to their meeting seems like nitpicking, given Jindal's aforementioned message.

TPM thinks this should cause more outrage on the right? Puh-lease. TPM's coverage of this non-story is the greater outrage, hands down.

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