I’m thoroughly convinced any story can now be tied by the media to the alleged perfidies of President Donald Trump.
The latest evidence of this trend is Hurricane Florence, which hit the Carolinas this week. On Sunday, the political chat shows had a lineup of individuals involved in the rescue effort from the storm.
The hosts weren’t exactly so interested in that, however. Instead, they wanted to talk about whether President Trump was wrong about whether 3,000 people died in the wake of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico last year and whether it was Trump’s fault.
Take CBS’ “Face the Nation,” where an accusatory John Dickerson had FEMA Administrator Brock Long on. Dickerson asked Long about the interruption of medical care in the event of a disaster, to which Long responded that “there’s hundreds of people out into the field and not only to support the medical needs, but also we are ready to support any evacuation transportation needs.”
“The interruption of medical care that you were just talking about was responsible, I believe, for 47 percent of the fatalities in Katrina and is a big part of that number that’s been disputed this week about Puerto Rico,” Dickerson said.
“The 3,000 number. So the president said that 3,000 number didn’t exist, that they didn’t die. So how is it true that you’re preparing for an interruption of medical care in Florence, but the president says people who died as a result of interruption of medical care in Puerto Rico are not worth counting?”
The dispute Dickerson was talking about was mentioned by President Trump in a series of tweets last week.
“When Trump visited the island territory last October, OFFICIALS told him in a briefing 16 PEOPLE had died from Maria.” The Washington Post. This was long AFTER the hurricane took place. Over many months it went to 64 PEOPLE. Then, like magic, “3000 PEOPLE KILLED.” They hired….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 15, 2018
….GWU Research to tell them how many people had died in Puerto Rico (how would they not know this?). This method was never done with previous hurricanes because other jurisdictions know how many people were killed. FIFTY TIMES LAST ORIGINAL NUMBER – NO WAY!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 15, 2018
Long noted that the study they were referring to was done differently than other studies that calculated the deaths over a shorter period of time.
“There’s a big discrepancy whether it’s direct deaths or indirect deaths,” Long said. “These guys (disaster responders) know one death is a death too many. We work every day to make sure that we try to prevent that.”
He added that the important thing with Puerto Rico was figuring out “what needs to happen next” in terms of infrastructure and rebuilding.
“But the reason it’s so important obviously is if you figure out how people died last time you can keep it from happening again,” Dickerson shot back. “You say the numbers are all over the place, but the numbers are more than zero, which is what the president said. He said the deaths didn’t happen.”
Long reiterated that the only number that FEMA counts is funeral benefits, but Dickerson continued to push on regarding that and whether Long should keep his job amid a minor travel scandal. Overall, very little of the interview actually had to do with Florence — the storm which was supposed to be the point.
Long was again faced with opposition on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” where Newsbusters notes host Chuck Todd grilled him on the response to Maria and the president’s tweets.
“And the president went off and, sort of, didn’t accept the premise that there were lessons to be learned from Puerto Rico?” Todd said. “Were there lessons to be learned from Puerto Rico for you, sir?”
“I think the president is being taken out of context there,” Long said. “I mean, I talked to the president every day this week and the Secretary of Homeland Security and we discuss what we’re trying to do as a result of last year. He’s well aware of that.”
“Why does it matter?” Todd asked. “Why is the White House so concerned about 3,000 deaths and say another report that might have had it at 1,800 deaths? You’ve said yourself, it doesn’t matter, but the White House believes it matters. Why?”
Well, if it shouldn’t matter to him, why does it matter to you, Mr. Todd?
Check out this video collection from the Media Research Center:
Things were little better on ABC’s “This Week,” where Jonathan Karl had Coast Guard Admiral Karl Schultz on to talk, again, to putatively talk about Florence. While that interview focused a bit more on the response to Florence, Karl couldn’t help going after Schultz about Hurricane Maria and Trump.
“You were intimately involved in that effort, Coast Guard did a lot – a lot of good work down in Puerto Rico,” Karl said. “But the president called that relief effort an unsung — incredible unsung success. Is that they way you saw it?”
“I would say the response in Maria was – was massive in terms of it’s – it’s an island, which makes things challenged,” Schultz said. “The supplies that were lifted in by sea, by air, I’ve got 600-plus Coast Guard men and women that call Puerto Rico home. They work out of there.”
Karl, ABC’s White House correspondent, then brought up the Trump tweet: “But you saw the devastation first hand, you don’t have any reason to doubt that official death toll, do you–“
“I’m not calling any numbers into doubt, what I’m saying, Jon, is I was — as our team was part of it, we were very much supported and powered to get down there and try to be helpful,” Schultz responded.
While this was less badgering than FEMA Administrator Long received on CBS, Admiral Schultz also isn’t exactly a numbers guy. He’s in the military. His job is to follow orders, give orders and get things done. That’s why this was all so ridiculous.
So much of this was about stuff that had nothing to do with Hurricane Florence. It was also brought up in a context where it would have been highly impolitic to mention the numerous failures of leadership on the island of Puerto Rico itself which led to the problems created by Hurricane Maria.
The numbers the media was obsessing about should have been wholly irrelevant to the situation that was occurring over the past week. But alas, even fresh tragedy can be politicized — and if the response to this hurricane can’t be criticized, they can certainly bring up past ones.
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