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    Success of ‘going negative’ changes campaign strategies
    [ # ] Blamegame Baloney - Michael Brown and FEMA
    March 28th, 2007 under Interviews, Institute Programs

    Note from Director, Bill Lacy

    The Dole Institute is bringing former FEMA Director Michael Brown to the Institute Wednesday, April 4. I have received some interesting comments about Mr. Brown including an e-mail, anonymous, of course, saying it was appalling that we were paying for him to speak here.

    We rarely pay honoraria at the Dole Institutive–that’s how we do so much on a generous but restricted budget. And we like to feature guests who have something to say. Mr. Brown does. Having spent twenty years in Washington, I know these issues are always more grey than black and white as they usually appear. So regardless of my views of Hurricane Katrina’s handling, I believe Mr. Brown has a right to be heard. Attached is a piece by his attorney, Mr. Andy Lester.

    Come and listen to Mr. Brown’s side of the story…even write a counter piece for the blog if you wish. Advance the debate and enjoy free speech.


    brownfema.jpgBy Andy Lester 

    Media coverage of Katrina was unprecedented. The instantaneous, non-stop reporting of the storm’s wreckage and the plight of those left stranded by it showed contemporary journalism at its best. The myths of Katrina, however, were a different story. Who can forget the rumors reported as fact of widespread rapes, murders, sniper fire at helicopters, police shooting storm victims, and scores of bodies piling up at the Superdome. In the face of a slow government response, the media looked for a scapegoat. Attention turned to Michael Brown, who, it was reported, was a failed former Arabian horse official, who got his job at FEMA from his college roommate, Joe Allbaugh. After Brown misstated on national television when FEMA learned of the people stranded at the Convention Center, and in the face of President Bush’s unfortunate “Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job” comment, judgment was swift and sure. Michael Brown, the unqualified crony, botched the federal response to Katrina. Across the political spectrum – from National Review to The New Republic, from former Republican Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott to Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi – everyone knows Brown preened while New Orleans sank.

    But it wasn’t true. Yet, while details of media misreporting about muggings, murder and mayhem came to light barely a month after Katrina, the botched coverage of Michael Brown remains grossly underreported. And almost completely unreported is how the White House, after realizing it had a public relations debacle on its hands, has relentlessly ignored the evidence that Brown did precisely what he was supposed to do and continued to press its narrative that Brown is the only federal official responsible for the government’s failures during Katrina. This plan, apparently designed to protect President Bush and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, almost worked to perfection. But “Brownie” fought back, violating what Margaret Carlson calls “Washington’s 11th commandment.” Review what happened.

    First, a swirl of stories appeared that Brown had been forced out of his last job. It wasn’t true, any more than was the oft-repeated one that Brown was Allbaugh’s college roommate (Brown, who was already married, didn’t even attend the same school as Allbaugh). But the damage was done. So it seemed to fit when The New Republic wrote that Brown was “a failed former lawyer—a man with a 20-year old degree from a semi-accredited law school who hadn’t attempted to practice law in a serious way in nearly 15 years and who had just been forced out of his job in the wake of charges of impropriety.” Discrediting Brown as a lawyer was important, because Brown arrived at FEMA not as its Director, but as its general counsel. This story was also false, not only about Brown but even about his alma mater,Oklahoma City University School of Law, the same school from which President Clinton nominated Robert Henry, then its Dean, to serve on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.

    Then, on Thursday, September 8, Time published an article that falsely accused Brown of misrepresenting his resume. Time did four things. It claimed that Brown’s position in Edmond, Oklahoma’s city government was that of an intern, not someone with “emergency management oversight;” that he hadn’t been an adjunct professor; that he hadn’t been a director of Oklahoma Christian Homes; and that his first boss after law school didn’t think much of his legal abilities. To make the accusation fit, Time twisted Edmond city spokesperson Claudia Deakins’ comments. Deakins has complained bitterly about Time’s inaccuracies; Time hasn’t printed a retraction. Brown has documentary proof refuting all of Time’s charges, including affidavits, letters, even reviews he was given by the former boss Time quotes, who had called Brown “an asset to the firm,” and described Brown’s work as “excellent,” “first rate,” and “outstanding.” But in the midst of America’s worst natural disaster, Time gave Brown, who was still in Louisiana coordinating the response to Katrina, only 45 minutes to respond to its error-filled story. Within hours of its publication, media everywhere cited the Time piece as gospel and Brown was sent back to Washington. He resigned on Monday.

    Although Brown successfully led the national response to over 150 presidentially declared disasters – including the California wildfires, the historic outbreak of tornadoes in the Midwest, and the four hurricanes, one on top of another, in Florida in 2004 – people still assume he didn’t have sufficient experience. Contrary to reports, Brown had a significant state and local government background, even helping design an emergency operations center and plan in one city early in his career. After half a year on the job as FEMA’s General Counsel, he led the FEMA headquarters response to the September 11 terrorist attacks, and was point man for the response to the attack on the Pentagon.  Rising through the ranks, he later became FEMA’s Deputy Director, and, in 2003, the newly created Under Secretary of Homeland Security for Emergency Preparedness and Response: Director of FEMA.

    Almost immediately, it became clear that the department, whose 185,000 employees included only 2,500 in FEMA, was more concerned with terrorism than with responding to a natural disaster. Brown had to fight a rearguard action within the administration just to keep FEMA functional. On September 15, 2003, Brown delivered a seven page memorandum to then Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, responding to a proposal to separate FEMA’s preparedness functions from its response duties. Sent two years before Katrina, the memo sounds prophetic. Brown wrote that Ridge’s proposal would “fundamentally sever FEMA from its core functions,” “shatter agency morale,” and “break longstanding, effective and tested relationships with states and first responder stakeholders.” In short, it would lead to “an ineffective and uncoordinated response” to a manmade or natural disaster.

    The following year, he wrote to Deputy Secretary Jim Loy, graphically warning of the devastating impact of DHS’s rerouting of funds away from FEMA and toward terrorism. When Chertoff took office in early 2005, Brown again wrote the Secretary that unless DHS backed away from crippling FEMA, it was creating “a confused operational framework.” He also talked directly with the President, even telling Bush that America was “not ready” for a catastrophic event like the tsunami that devastated so much of South Asia. All his pleas fell on deaf ears.

    Seeing is believing. Michael Brown certainly knows that today. He testified five separate times to committees of Congress, twice publicly, three times behind closed doors. But, for the most part, his comments there were ignored, too. Then, the release of the secure teleconference videotapes demonstrated beyond doubt that Michael Brown was ably doing his job. Instead of being the bumbler so many had so widely portrayed, Michael Brown was the one senior administration official who sounded the alarm, urged everyone to move forward all their resources, to “push the envelope,” to “jump over the envelope,” to get “those supply chains jammed … full as much as you can with commodities.” He warned of the problems facing those sent by Mayor Nagin to the Superdome, which “is about 12 feet below sea level[.] And I also am concerned about that roof. I don’t know whether that roof is designed to stand – withstand a Cat. 5 hurricane.” He mentioned his concern that “they’re not taking patients out of hospitals, taking prisoners our of prisons, and they’re leaving hotels open in downtown New Orleans.”

    Unlike so many others in the Administration, he wasn’t on vacation or flying off to bird flu conferences. He was on the job, doing his job, making sure that the people above him – both the White House and Secretary Chertoff – were fully and timely aware of everything that was going on. He regularly talked with the President and his top deputies, even receiving an email Monday evening, shortly after landfall, from White House Chief of Staff Andy Card, thanking him for keeping them “well-informed.”

    The first clue Brown had that the Administration had hung him out to dry was a curious email he received while still in Baton Rouge. A senior Administration official who is a close friend of the President told Brown that the media maelstrom surrounding him fit perfectly with Administration desires. Referring to the cabinet meeting that took place the day after Labor Day, this person stated that “someone commented that the press was sure beating up on Mike Brown, to which the President replied ‘I’d rather they beat up on him than me or Chertoff.’” This attitude, coupled with the reality shown by the subsequently released videotapes, explains why the Administration didn’t want Brown to testify before Congress about his conversations with the White House. If he can’t tell investigators that he kept the President informed, he can remain the presidential piñata.

     The videotapes embarrassed the White House and its Republican allies. They proved their defense of President Bush and Secretary Chertoff – “if only Michael Brown had told them” – was false. So they quickly swung into action. Fran Townsend, Bush’s Homeland Security aide, had signaled the new tack, singling out Brown for “[choosing] not to follow his chain of command. This can’t happen again.” House Republicans followed suit. The Select Committee, which had already published its report, suddenly had to issue a “supplement.” This was curious, as the Committee had no additional information, other than the videotapes. But now House Republicans decreed Brown, by dealing directly with the White House, had ignored the “chain of command.” Senate Republicans dutifully followed suit. Upon issuing the Senate Committee report on its investigation of Katrina, Committee Chairman Susan Collins incredibly called Brown’s communications with the President “blatant insubordination.”

    The charge that Brown didn’t communicate directly with Chertoff is false. But even more incredible is the idea that a senior administration official is insubordinate because he communicates, at the President’s request, with the President. Fortunately, Bush’s defenders don’t really believe their own propaganda: The very first recommendation of the Senate Homeland Security Committee’s report is that the FEMA director have a “direct line to the President during catastrophes.”

    Interestingly, the Hurricane Katrina legislation Congress passed last year reads as if it were pulled virtually verbatim from Brown’s testimony and long-forgotten memoranda. Remember his September 2003 advice not to separate preparedness from response? The administration ignored Brown; the legislation fixes that. Remember his warning against breaking longstanding relationships with states and first responders? The administration ignored Brown; the legislation fixes that.

    And remember the charge that Brown was unqualified to run FEMA? The legislation requires that future FEMA directors have demonstrated ability in and knowledge of emergency management and homeland security, and 5 years of executive experience in the public or private sector. Brown more than fit the bill.

    To be sure, no one – least of all Michael Brown himself – claims he did a perfect job during Katrina. Brown has repeatedly accepted responsibility for his shortcomings. Amazingly, though, Brown seems to be the only senior government official who has been willing to admit to any mistakes.

    The Administration’s failure to heed Brown’s repeated warnings about its decimation of FEMA was as shameful as its failure to listen to his warnings about Katrina. But it would be far worse if, for the sake of hubris, our executive and legislative policymakers failed to make necessary reforms to FEMA. Armed with fact, the public should demand that politicians on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue move beyond the scapegoat myth, and instead do what’s truly in the public interest.


    Andy Lester, a lawyer in Edmond, Oklahoma, is Michael D. Brown’s personal lawyer.  He worked as an intern for Sen. Bob Dole (R.-Kan) from 1977-78, served on President Ronald Reagan’s Transition Team in 1980, and was also a member of Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry’s Transition Team in 2002.  He is a former United States Magistrate Judge.

    Andrew W. Lester
    Lester, Loving & Davies, P.C.
    1701 South Kelly Avenue
    Edmond, Oklahoma 73013-3623
    Tel. (405) 844-9900
    Fax (405) 844-9958
    Email: alester@lldlaw.com
    URL:  www.lldlaw.com

    Read the Comments

    [ # 859 ] Comment from Becky Brown [March 29, 2007, 6:48 pm]

    What a great article- I am glad someone besides Mr. Brown’s family stands behind him 100%. This man is a very honest,caring and Christian man- I know all of that without any doubt- I’ve only known him for 43 years as his little sister and anyone that would be able to hear him speak has a great honor in front of them. You are lucky to get him to speak for you. Thanks

    [ # 1422 ] Comment from Anonymous [April 4, 2007, 3:51 pm]

    I have recieved negative reactions when I’ve told various groups that Mr. Brown was speaking today; however, I am appalled that anyone would object to someone being invited to show things as they were from his perspective. Even if the allegations the media made were true, everyone deserves an audience - and it’s the audience’s responsibility to decide the value of the speaker’s thoughts and ideas.

    I am glad this letter by Mr. Lester was posted. The media and the current administration can be so frustrating in their sensationalism and willingness to pass the blame and create their own version of the truth.

    [ # 1453 ] Comment from Nate [April 4, 2007, 10:02 pm]

    So the Dole Institute is passing off this puff piece — written by Brown’s lawyer, no less — without criticism? Could we get some real journalism up in this mother, please?!

    [ # 1459 ] Comment from Hiram [April 4, 2007, 10:55 pm]

    So, I should feel sorry for Michael Brown because he was portrayed incorrectly by the press? I blame everyone in this government (federal, state, municipal) that was involved in the mess that was created by Katrina and for the over 1800 Americans that lost their lives, not the media. This includes Michael Brown, but it’s not exclusive to him. I’m sorry I won’t be there tonight to ask questions.

    And if you should ever forget what his job was during the disaster (and, I might add, still ongoing “rebuilding”), you can read some e-mails here:


    Yes, it’s a link from a media website, but there’s no editorial content. You can just read what was written for yourself, and, unlike some media sources, you can actually decide.

    [ # 6923 ] Comment from bpzquqjsmw [June 20, 2007, 11:41 pm]

    Hello! Good Site! Thanks you! caquxashet

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