Of Presidential (and Blogospheric) Bubbles

Liberal bloggers are having a field day today with two big stories by Time and Newsweek that focus on how the Bush “bubble” adversely affected the president’s response to Katrina.

In Newsweek, Evan Thomas reports that the reality of the storm’s consequences “did not really sink in until Thursday night. … How this could be—how the president of the United States could have even less ‘situational awareness,’ as they say in the military, than the average American about the worst natural disaster in a century—is one of the more perplexing and troubling chapters in a story that, despite moments of heroism and acts of great generosity, ranks as a national disgrace.”

That’s enough for the Carpetbagger to scathingly write:

When did the president realize the scope and breadth of the Katrina crisis? Was it before the storm hit, when he was briefed by the NOAA? How maybe when Gov. Blanco declared a state of emergency? Or when horrific images started appearing on national television on Monday and Tuesday of that fateful week?

No, things began to “sink in” for Bush a couple of days later when Dan Bartlett put together an easy-to-understand video montage for him on a DVD. …

It’s bad enough that Bush lives in a bubble, never speaking to or hearing from anyone with whom he might disagree, but when the walls of that bubble are so impenetrable that he doesn’t even know about the devastation affecting a major American city, one has to wonder if the man is even fit for his office.

In Time, Mike Allen writes of “the President’s increasing isolation. Bush’s bubble has grown more hermetic in the second term, [aides and outside allies] say, with fewer people willing or able to bring him bad news—or tell him when he’s wrong.” Blogger Victor Infante, in turn, compares Bush to a certain late, embattled commander-in-chief in his post, “The Nixon Complex”:

Regardless of politics, it’s essential that the president not be isolated from the real world, that there be people in place who can tell him point-blank when [he’s] wrong. Otherwise, the line between fantasy and reality blurs — and make no mistake: time and time again, this administration has increasingly relied on the best-case scenario.

Meanwhile, some conservative bloggers, armed with an op-ed by Jack Kelly in yesterday’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, are firing back with ammunition provided by a National Guardsman who’s been mobilized six times before for hurricane relief. He is one Jason van Steenwyk, who was quoted as saying, “The federal government pretty much met its standard time lines, but the volume of support provided during the 72-96 hour was unprecedented. The federal response here was faster than Hugo, faster than Andrew, faster than Iniki, faster than Francine and Jeanne.”

“Since it doesn’t fit the mold of the MSM’s agenda don’t expect to hear much about this,” observes Matt Margolis at Blogs For Bush. “The MSM is weaving a false story about the federal government’s response to Hurricane Katrina,” chimes in Jonathan R. at GOP Bloggers, arguing the feds actually responded in “record-breaking time.”

Writing more broadly, Macsmind says, “[T]he response of FEMA was better than in recent storms. They WERE there, but this was a catastrophe like no other.” He then concludes with this trumpet call: “It’s time to stop the BS of the MSM, and get the truth out about what [happened]. Consider this a call from an old ‘war-horse’ to conservative bloggers everywhere - ‘Charge!’.”

Well, maybe not. Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts recalls that when Hurricane Andrew ripped apart his own house in 1992, FEMA showed up with water within 24 hours.

Such potential for rhetorical conflict leaves us waiting with bated breath as we consider the possibilities brought on by the start of the John Roberts confirmation hearings this afternoon. For the moment, though, as FishbowlDC calls it, the hearings are “that small tree falling in a forest no one heard today”.

Finally, we leave you by noting the launch today of “Public Eye,” CBS News’ much talked-about experiment in online transparency. We’ll refrain from knee-jerk instant criticism, but leave it to Gawker to provide some immediate sarcasm:

Oh happy day! Public Eye, the new non-opinionated, non-ombudsman, non-blog ombudsman blog from CBS News, launched this morning. …

And they’re working hard up on 57th Street, with three posts up already this morning. With an average [length] of 1,220 words.

Because that’s how much we want to read about the making of news shows we don’t watch in the first place.

Edward B. Colby

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Edward B. Colby was a writer at CJR Daily.