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The Katrina Video Distortion Will Hurt Bush

The media hysteria over the Katrina video provides an insight into today’s media/news environment. The first I saw of the story was a huge breaking news caption (the type that used to be reserved for plane crashes) and Chris Matthews hyperventilating about this “confidential” new video exposing the President’s lies on Katrina. Obviously intrigued, I paid closer attention as he played the video of a hurricane weather guy briefing Bush on Katrina while down in Crawford. (Transcript)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (weather guy): So if the really strong winds clip Lake Pontchartrain, that's going to pile some of the water from Lake Pontchartrain over on the south side of the lake. I don't think anybody can tell you with any confidence right now whether the levees will be topped or not, but it's obviously a very, very big concern.

Matthews thinking he’s got the goods on the President spews:

MATTHEWS: OK. There we saw it and I want to repeat something that I just read and I want to repeat it to you. Here's the president four days after Hurricane Katrina, its four days—actually five days after that briefing.

I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees, that's the president…. square those two facts.

Watching my TV I was immediately dumfounded by the intellectual dishonesty of Matthews’ question. It occurred to me maybe Chris should get a video camera and fill up his bathtub at home and watch the water run over the top. And then he should fill the tub almost to the top and then get a sledgehammer and bash a two foot hole in the side of the tub. And then he should sit down and watch both videos and imagine the tub being the size of Lake Pontchartrain and the hole being 300 ft wide, and he should focus on visualizing the difference between a levee being “topped” and a levee being “breached.”

Matthews of course was not alone in the media hysteria, the original AP story laid the groundwork for the press’ deceptive reporting. Kevin Aylward at Wizbang does a thorough job of deconstructing the AP’s dishonesty and also reports the interesting tidbit that writer Margaret Ebrahim also just happened to be a producer with CBS News’s 60 Minutes II.

Special Report with Brit Hume on FOX News did a good job of exposing the truth behind this mini-uproar, and in turn ridiculing their competition for hyping something out of nothing and distorting the facts of the story. And because of the blogosphere and FOX News, this story will not get the same kind of legs it would have years ago when the MSM had a monopoly on setting the agenda. But make no mistake about it; the Katrina video story has hurt Bush.

The vast majority of the public gets their information from snippets in the headlines and 20-30 second spots on the major networks. The damage to the White House is two-fold. First, it resurrects the Katrina story, where Bush rightly deserves some criticism, which is obviously unhelpful, and two, it creates the incorrect impression with many in the public that Bush was forewarned the levees might be breached and lied about it days later to cover his butt.

Partisans like Paul Krugman will continue to push this meme as he did today ($) in the New York Times:

Many people have now seen the video of the briefing Mr. Bush received before Hurricane Katrina struck. Much has been made of the revelation that Mr. Bush was dishonest when he claimed, a few days later, that nobody anticipated the breach of the levees.

Of course the only one being dishonest here is Paul Krugman and the New York Times, but that doesn’t matter. All of this noise about Bush and what he was briefed on will accumulate to scar the President’s image and hurt GOP chances this fall.

Coming on the heels on the Dubai Ports fiasco, alongside the fresh chaos in Iraq, don’t be surprised to see the President’s job approval continue to fall.