Sun, Sep 04, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Bush's language spinning out of control


The Iraqi insurgency is in its last throes. The economy is booming. Anybody who leaks a CIA agent's identity will be fired. Add another piece of White House rhetoric that doesn't match the public's view of reality: Help is on the way, Gulf Coast.

As New Orleans descended into anarchy, US President George W. Bush and his emergency-response team congratulated each other on Friday for jobs well done and spoke of water, food and troops pouring into the ravaged city. Television pictures told a different story.

"What it reminded me of the other day is `Baghdad Bob' saying there are no Americans at the airport," said Rich Galen, a Republican consultant in Washington.

He was referring to Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's reality-challenged minister of information who denied the existence of US troops in the Iraqi capital.

To some critics, Bush seemed to deny the existence of problems with hurricane relief this week.

He waited until Friday to acknowledge that "the results are not acceptable."

Republicans worry that he looks out of touch defending the chaotic emergency response.

"It's impossible to defend something like this happening in America," former House speaker Newt Gingrich said.

"No one can be happy with the kind of response which we've seen in New Orleans," Republican Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney said.

Bush got himself in trouble by trying to put the best face on a horrible situation. The strategy is so common in Washington that operatives have a name for it -- "spin" -- and the Bush White House has perfected the shady art.

This is what the president had to say about the relief effort earlier in the week:

* "There's a lot of food on its way, a lot of water on the way, and there's a lot of boats and choppers headed that way."

* "Thousands have been rescued. There's thousands more to be rescued. And there's a lot of people focusing their efforts on that."

* "As we speak, people are moving into New Orleans area to maintain law and order."

Technically, the president may have been right. Help was on the way, but not fast enough to handle one of the largest emergency response efforts in US history. The words were jarring to those who saw images of looters, abandoned corpses and desperate victims.

It was worse when he was wrong. In one interview, Bush said, "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees."

In fact, many experts predicted that a major storm would push through and bust New Orleans' flood-control barriers, and soon.

One reason the public relations effort backfired on Bush is that Americans have seen it before.

On Iraq alone, the rhetoric has repeatedly fallen far short of reality. Bush often boasts of the health of the US economy, which is fair game because many indicators point in that direction. But the public doesn't share his rosy view.

Bush's spokesman said anybody involved in leaking the identity of a CIA agent would be fired, but no action has been taken against officials accused of doing so.

Bush crafted a reputation as a blunt-speaking, can-do leader from his response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Five months later, about three-fourths of Americans viewed him as honest.

But his rating dropped gradually to a slim majority by the 2004 election year and remained at the mid-50 percentile through the early part of this year. Last month, an AP-Ipsos poll showed 48 percent of respondents considered Bush honest, the lowest level of his presidency.

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