Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

Red vs. Blue working out well in Houston

Jerry Stratton, September 11, 2005

I’ve just heard that Laura Bush is “scared” that “poor people” are going to be moving to Houston, and that she’s said that these poor people “never had it so good.”

In my recent review of Brainwashing 101, I wrote how that documentary was a symptom of the impoverished political climate today, a media-fed degeneration of rhetoric to nothing more than red vs. blue America. This story about Laura Bush, and its interpretation, ranks among the worst of that Michael Moore-style gotcha-game where even attempts at helping people will be taken in its worst possible light.

This seemed like an awfully strange thing to say, so of course I went on-line to find the context. This particular quote occurred at a fund raiser where George Bush and Bill Clinton were announcing the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund. These people, all of them, George Bush, Bill Clinton, Laura Bush, and Barbara Bush, were there to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina, and to help the governors of nearby states help the victims.

It turns out that it was not the First Lady who said this. Online sources, at least, are getting that part right. Here is the quote, taken as a snippet both out of context of what Barbara Bush said and out of the context of where she said it, from the New York Times:

As President Bush battled criticism over the response to Hurricane Katrina, his mother declared it a success for evacuees who “were underprivileged anyway,” saying on Monday that many of the poor people she had seen while touring a Houston relocation site were faring better than before the storm hit.

The rest of the article contained barely a mention of why they were there, and no mention of the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund.

It sounds horrible, until you go to the Marketplace audio file for Houston, we may have a problem and listen to the raw audio. Nowhere does Barbara Bush say that the poor people in Houston were better off than before the storm hit:

Barbara Bush: The Bush-Clinton fund is being announced today and it’s very, very important, but we came because we also cared a lot. And I must say we’re overwhelmed with our city of Houston, the county judge, the mayor, the governor, everybody. Senators, congresswomen and men, all working to see that Houston takes care of these very needy people, and getting them out into the world and in jobs and into housing.

Interviewer: What sort of stories are you hearing?

Barbara Bush: What I’m hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas. Everybody is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. So many of the people in the arena here were underprivileged, anyway, so this is working very well for them. Then I’ve heard unbelievable stories of a mother with twins that were two weeks old on the bridge for four days. Unbelievable. But they lived.

Interviewer: Wow. How is it touching you, seeing these people?

Barbara Bush: How is it touching me? The same way it is you or anybody else. I feel I’ve cried for weeks. But it was a week ago tomorrow the floods came and look what Houston’s doing.

Could Barbara Bush’s comments be interpreted as the New York Times did? Sure, if you find the worst possible interpretation, it is plausible that this is what Barbara Bush meant. But why do we want to take our political discussion to such extremes when it makes more sense in context to choose a more reasonable interpretation? Why do we want to believe the worst about people while they are trying to do good?

Was their being in Houston working out well for the evacuees? Instead of taking the worst possible interpretation of this, why not take it in context of what these people are going through? Is it working out well for them compared to staying in New Orleans where they did not have the resources to leave, nor the resources to stay? Yes, this is working out very well for them compared to staying in the Louisiana Superdome with its cracked roof and lack of supplies. It is working out very well for them compared to living on a bridge for four days!

Is it possible to reasonably consider it scary that upwards of 250,000 people might decide not to return to New Orleans? New Orleans’ population was 484,674. For Greater New Orleans it is 1,337,726. Yeah, if a sixth of their population chooses not to return, that’s scary.

Is it scary that Houston may need to accommodate up to 250,000 more citizens? Yes, it is scary. Houston will need to seriously increase funding for its civil infrastructure if that happens. And yet, Houston has still chosen to accept the evacuees and is doing its best to accommodate them now and in the future: finding jobs and housing. That’s what the Bushes and the Clintons were talking about. That’s what their fund is helping Houston and other areas do.

“Throughout our history,” says the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund web site, “Americans have always responded to adversity with courage and compassion.” That’s what Houston and many other areas are doing today. Meanwhile, the New York Times and some other media outlets are choosing to take what they can of that courage and compassion, and twist it to political innuendo and artificial partisan controversy. And we are becoming so consumed with hatred that we believe what they say when they do it to our “political enemies”.

October 12, 2005: Will the real Laura Bush please stand up?

This is just a quick note showing one more example of why we cannot trust the mainstream media to quote people correctly. Headlines that quote people are too often sensationalized to the point that they are completely wrong; short quotes inside of articles are too often controversial only because some context has been removed.

I don’t have time to write much on this one, but fortunately this time around others are coming to the plate.

The issues are two-fold. First, Laura Bush did not call anyone sexist as some of the headlines are screaming. Matt Lauer did, and Laura Bush said merely that it was “possible”. She did not “suggest critics of Miers may be sexist”. Matt Lauer did that. She did not “suggest sexism may underlie the opposition.” As far as I can tell, nobody suggested that. She did not “see sexism in Miers’s critics”. Again, that was Matt Lauer.

But a more controversial issue is that the quote which places like Reuters are using to back this up probably has the interviewer’s statement removed, making Laura Bush’s “It’s possible” become “I think it’s possible”. She very likely did not say that or mean that.

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