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AP Reverses Course, Refutes "Obama's Katrina" Talking Point

May 8, 2010

As oil was spreading across the Gulf on April 29, AP reporter Calvin Woodward did some spreading of his own. Amplifying the predictable Republican talking point, Woodward asked, "Will this be Obama's Katrina?" Now a week later, his AP colleagues H. Josef Hebert and Erica Werner have responded with an emphatic no in an article titled, "Obama oil response: aggressive as crisis unfolded."

Coming exactly one year after laying the blame for the federal deficit at Barack Obama's feet, Woodward echoed conservative talking heads insisting the BP disaster was really the president's. Following the tried and untrue tactic of fellow AP tire swingers Liz Sidoti and Ron Fournier, Woodward in asking the question provided his answer to it:

Suddenly, everything changed. For days, as an oil spill spread in the Gulf of Mexico, BP assured the government the plume was manageable, not catastrophic. Federal authorities were content to let the company handle the mess while keeping an eye on the operation...
Will this be Obama's Katrina? Should the federal and state governments have done more, and earlier? Did they learn the lessons of the devastating hurricane?

But a week after Woodward provided more ammunition for the like of Rush Limbaugh, Fox News and the Washington Times, the AP's Hebert and Werner refuted their colleague's premise:

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...
The AP review found that the administration - aware of the political scars left on the Bush White House over Katrina - moved early with rescue efforts. Also, the government knew within days that while no leak had been found, the potential for environmental harm existed.
From day to day, as the situation evolved from devastating fire and dramatic rescue to a possible environmental hazard, the response activities changed, too, according to documents and interviews.

Adding weight to the timeline offered by the White House, the AP report found that President Obama moved quickly to address the unfolding catastrophe in along the Gulf Coast. For example, two days after the fire, Obama convened an Oval Office meeting and mobilized federal resources even before first word of the growing spill:

A team representing 16 agencies and offices that included the Pentagon, the Environmental Protection Agency and the departments of Interior and Homeland Security was formed. As a precaution, 100,000 gallons of chemicals to break up oil on the waster was sent to three Gulf Coast locations.

Like Woodward, Werner and Hebert posed the question, "Would there be a repeat of the bureaucratic bungling that marked President George W. Bush's response to the hurricane?" But unlike their colleague, they did the legwork to provide an answer that wasn't essentially xeroxed from RNC letterhead.

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Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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