His finest hour:
It's Thursday, September 1, 2005. Three days earlier, on Monday, August 29, Hurricane Katrina rumbles through New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, leaving unprecedented devastation in its wake. America's news media descend upon the area, sending back heart-wrenching images of hundreds of thousands of people stranded and dying, living in squalid conditions, waiting for assistance to arrive. Television news has been full of shots of thousands upon thousands of New Orleans residents gathering outside the Convention Center, where they have been told by aid workers that they will find food, water, shelter and sanitation.
On NPR’s All Things Considered, host Robert Siegel interviews Chertoff, head of the Department of Homeland Security, and the man most responsible – after the president – for the nation’s response to an "Incident of National Significance," as the National Response Plan calls such a disaster (some emphases added):
SIEGEL: Let me ask you about images that many Americans are seeing today and hearing about. They are from the Convention Center in New Orleans. A CNN reporter has described thousands of people, he says, many of them - you can see them in the pictures: mothers with babies, in the streets, no food, corpses and human waste. Our reporter, John Burnett, has seen the same things. How many days before your operation finds these people, brings them - at least - food, water, medical supplies, if not gets them out of there?
CHERTOFF: Well, first let me tell you, there have been deliveries of food, water and medical supplies to the Superdome [sic; evidently, Chertoff missed the whole "Convention Center" thing - o.h.], and that's happened almost from the very beginning -
SIEGEL: But this is the Convention Center, these are people who are not allowed inside the Superdome -
CHERTOFF: [still clueless] Well, but people - in other words, there have been - we have brought this to the, to the Superdome, there are stations in which we have put water and food and medical supplies. The limiting factor here has not been that we don't have enough supplies; the factor is that we really got - had a double catastrophe -
Editorial comment, 'cause I just can't restrain myself: The limiting factor here is the intelligence of the asshats running this shameful excuse for an aid operation. The double catastrophe was the swearing in of the two highest officials in the land, back in January of 2001.
We now return you to our regularly scheduled clusterfuck:
CHERTOFF (cont'd): - we not only had a hurricane, we had a second catastrophe, which was a flood. That flood made parts of the city very difficult to get through.
SIEGEL: [impatient] Mm-hmm.
CHERTOFF: If you can't get through the city, you can't deliver supplies. So we have, in fact, using heroic efforts, been getting food and water to distribution centers, to places where people can get them.
SIEGEL: But if those people who haven't gotten them, if they ask our reporter, "When am I gonna see those supplies, when does it get to me?" what's the answer? How many days until -
CHERTOFF: I think the answer is that we are, as much as humanly possible - given the fact that we still have feet of water that have not drained out of the city yet - we are, we are moving those foods and supplies as quickly as possible. People need to get to areas that are designated for them to stage for purposes of evacuation. We're contending with the force of Mother Nature -
SIEGEL: [more impatient] And - and - and what is your sense - I'm trying to, I mean, by the weekend, do you expect that everybody in New Orleans will have some kind of food and water delivered by this operation?
CHERTOFF: I would expect that, unless people are trapped in isolated places that we can't get to, I would expect that everybody's gonna have access to food and water and medical care. The key is to get people to staging areas. There are some people who are stranded but who are not in imminent danger; they are not people that we're gonna necessarily rescue immediately; we're gonna try to get them, though, food and water so they can sustain themselves until we can pick them up.
SIEGEL: [he's had it, now] We are hear- we are hearing from, from our reporters - and he's on another line right now - thousands of people at the Convention Center in New Orleans with no food. Zero.
CHERTOFF: Well, I mean - as I say, I'm telling you we are getting food and water to areas where people are staging, and, um, y'know, it's - one thing about an episode like this is if you talk to someone and you get a rumor or you get someone's anecdotal version of something, I think it's dangerous to extrapolate it or, ah, ah, all over the place. The limitation here on getting food and water to people is the condition on the ground, and as, as soon as we can physically move through the ground [??], um, with these assets, we're gonna do that. So -
SIEGEL: But, but just a second. When you say that there, that we don't - we shouldn't listen to rumors, these are things coming from reporters who have not only covered many, many other hurricanes, they've covered wars and refugee camps! I mean, these aren't rumors; they're seeing thousands of people there.
CHERTOFF: Well, I - I - I would be - as I say, I have not heard a report of thousands of people in the Convention Center who don't have food and water. I can tell you that I know specifically that the Superdome - ah, which was the designated staging area for a large number of evacuees - does have food and water. I know we have teams putting food and water out at other designated evacuation areas. So, um, y'know, this isn't - and we've got plenty of food and water if we can get it out to people, and that is the effort we're undertaking.
SIEGEL: And our reporter said 2,000 people at the Convention Center without any food or water.
CHERTOFF: Obviously, I can't argue with you about what your reporter tells you. I can only tell you that we are getting water and food and other supplies to people where we have them staged, where we can find them, where we can get it to them, and, y'know, if you're suggesting to me that somehow the National Guard missed a group of people, I will certainly call 'em up and make sure they don't miss them. But I'm not in a position to argue with you about what your reporters are telling us.
At this point, Siegel, being the experienced reporter that he is, lets go. There is a point in an adversarial interview when you as the interviewer let it go, a point of diminishing return. And even though Katrina - as evidenced by Anderson Cooper and even, God help us, Geraldo Rivera - brought out the compassion and outrage in almost every reporter who covered it, there is a point in dealing with the BushCheney administration when compassion and outrage can go no further.
Here's the link to the audio (click on the "Listen" icon; the exchange starts about 1:46 in). Don't miss this - it is one of the classic sound bites of the BushCheney administration, a sterling metaphor for the "We-create-our-own-reality" blowjob that these self-serving delusional assholes keep performing on themselves and on an ever-dwindling portion of the American electorate.
Chertoff can’t even help the American people when they’re dying on national TV. There’s no way in hell I trust him to protect the United States Constitution behind closed doors.
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