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February 16, 2006

It Was Chertoff All Along

It's kind of amazing how long it takes the corporate news media -- with all their experience, expertise and access to sources and analysts -- to come around to some of the most obvious conclusions. And it's really sad when they're led to those conclusions by typically sluggish government institutions -- especially when government wrongdoing is the subject.

More than a year ago on our pages, Kari Lydersen pointed out how "mildly" Michael Chertoff was treated during his Senate confirmation hearings for Secretary of Homeland Security. It was pretty clear to us then that Chertoff was should have been scrutinized harder. It was clear to a lot of people, in fact. Now, almost half a year after the Hurricane Katrina debacle, the press is starting to wake up to the obvious -- just behind Congress. But in doing so, they have to make it seem like it was an unforseeable eventuality. Check out the way the LA Times talks about him:

Although Chertoff was hailed as a brilliant choice in mid-January 2005 when President Bush picked him to head the department, and he was confirmed unanimously by the Senate about a month later, the criticism of his conduct during Katrina has become so pointed that a House special investigating committee titled its 600-page report "A Failure of Initiative." It chided Chertoff for being too passive. The report was released Wednesday, though many of its findings had been reported earlier.

In fact, weasely assertions like this constitute a whitewash of what was known of Chertoff at the time the Senate confirmed him, and what has been known of his performance -- or lack thereof -- as ring leader of the disaster behind the Katrina disaster. The press and the liberal bloggers and much of the usually vigilant left allowed themselves to get caught up in smashing the pinata that was FEMA Gong Show Director Michael Brown; as a result, they missed the main target.

We knew Chertoff deserved more scrutiny back in September. And we're still pushing for the government and the rest of the media to do their jobs and pay attention to the fact that Chertoff abused his power by putting Brown in charge of the entire Katrina response. Chertoff wasn't just lax, as the papers and Congress are treating him; he violated the singular directive laying out his responsibilities in such an emergency situation.

Now Chertoff is saying he didn't want to micromanage the disaster response, and he's citing his "experience during the Sept. 11th attacks" as the reason he held back. But Chertoff's "experience" of 9/11 was as a prosecutor, not as an disaster-response coordinator (a fact the LA Times didn't seem concerned about when twice regurgitating Chertoff's 9/11-veteran self-appraisals).

Back when Chertoff was on his way to confirmation, we documented his role in post 9/11 management:

At the top of the list of his critics’ concerns is that Chertoff is credited as the architect of a post-9/11 government policy to hold hundreds of people indefinitely for minor visa violation or under the premise that they were "material witnesses" in terrorism investigations, without having to provide evidence they were involved in any criminal activity.

His 9/11 "experience" also included helping design the USA PATRIOT Act,directing widely criticized systematic interviews of Middle Eastern men; and allowing the FBI to infiltrate religious and other gatherings with undercover agents.

If the press has any valid function, it is to hold people like Chertoff accountable. If the most conscious among the public has a responsibility in regard to the media, it is to hold them accountable for doing journalism as poorly as bureucrats and politicians tend to do their jobs.

Comments...

Benjamin Melançon: It Was Chertoff All Along

Brian does link to this, but though the NewStandard crew generally know they're doing a great job and don't waste time with false modesty, I think a little more highlighting of just how on top of this they were is in order. While everyone was bashing FEMA (considered a model agency before the Bush cabal came to town), the NewStandard ran this headline: Disaster Buck Stopped at Chertoff, Not Brown.

Nailed it. Added to the other excellent Katrina coverage, if everyone were reading the NewStandard, New Orleans might be back by now. Instead, we're waiting for the Department of Homeland Security to watch the next disaster to wipe out the next major U.S. city.


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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.