A picture is worth a thousand denying words. For several hours Fox News has been showing photos of a major breach in a New Orleans levee.
Just now I watched a live news conference featuring an Army Corps of Engineers spokesman. Fox’s split screen had him on the left, with a televised image of water rushing through an obvious breach on the right. Here’s the interchange between he and a reporter:
Brigadier General William Grisoli: What’s happening in the Industrial Canal is that we were able to repair in three weeks up to about a seven-foot level. We knew that we had protection up to seven feet for the Ninth Ward area. The expected surge was three to five feet as of this morning. But as you know right now we’re experiencing seven plus, so we’re experiencing over-topping into the Ninth Ward and that’s what you’re seeing there. Also, on the west bank you’re seeing some over-topping there and also some seepage along the west bank of the Industrial Canal.
Reporter: Just following up on that. I was there this morning. And it didn’t look like water was going over into the Ninth Ward, it sort of punched through…
Grisoli: Well, initially the water over-topped and in some areas it might wear down, gradually wear down some of the protection we had. It’s a constantly changing environment there.
This is just one small episode in the grand hurricane epic that continues to play out on the Gulf Coast. But it was profoundly disturbing to me.
I expect President Bush and his political cronies to be in denial of the botched federal response to this disaster, yet I’ve had a (probably naïve) expectation that the Corps of Engineers “boots on the ground” were much more in touch with reality. This interchange proved otherwise.
Grisoli quickly changed his tune when his initial prevarication was challenged by the reporter. At first he said the levee failure was caused by over-topping. Then he essentially admitted that the protection was being worn away by the storm surge.
We should be able to expect straight answers from the people directly in charge of protecting us. Politicians can dissemble all they want—that’s all they know how to do. But when the Corps of Engineers won’t admit to obvious failures of its levees—that’s totally unacceptable.