(President Bush looks out the window of Air Force One while flying over New Orleans, Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2005, inspecting damage from Hurricane Katrina. (Susan Walsh/The Associated Press)
How one photo can change a lot in big politics…
Former President George W. Bush says it was a “huge mistake” to let himself be photographed looking from Air Force One down at the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Bush reflected on the iconic photograph during an interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer to promote his forthcoming memoir, “Decision Points.” The photo was published widely and only reinforced the view that the Bush administration didn’t act quickly enough or fully grasp the severity of the problems on the ground in New Orleans after the levees broke.
“Let’s get to the picture that we may have seen more of you in the last couple years of your presidency than any other picture,” Lauer said. “You’re sitting in Air Force One, flying back toward Washington. You fly right over New Orleans and you look out the window.”
“Yes,” Bush responded. “Huge mistake.”
The full Lauer interview airs 8 p.m. Monday night, with Bush’s book hitting shelves the following day. But NBC released the following excerpt Friday:
LAUER: Yeah. And in comes the press and they take that picture. And it made you look so out of touch.
BUSH: Detached and uncaring. No question about it.
LAUER: Whose fault was it?
BUSH: It’s always my fault. I mean I was the one who should have said, A, don’t take my picture, B, let’s land in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, C, let’s don’t even come close to the area. Let’s — the next place to be seen is in Washington at a command center. I mean, it was my fault.
LAUER: When the picture’s released you write, “I immediately knew it was a problem.”
BUSH: Of course. I’d been around long enough to know that when it was released. And the reason why we didn’t land in Louisiana is because I was concerned that first responders would be pulled off their task and I’d be criticized. In retrospect,Â however, I should have touched down in Baton Rouge, met with the governor and walked out and said, “I hear you. We understand. And we’re going to help the state and help the local governments with as much resources as needed.” And then got back on a flight up to Washington. I did not do that. And paid a price for it.
[Then and now photos: New Orleans, five years later]
It’s likely that most of the revelations in Bush’s book will be covered before the title becomes available in stores.
The New York Times already snagged a copy of the book and revealed Tuesday that Bush once considered replacing Vice President Dick Cheney before running for re-election in 2004. Also, NBC released a previous excerpt in which Bush said that rapper Kanye West’s criticism of him after Katrina—that he “doesn’t care about black people”—was “one of the most disgusting moments of my presidency.”
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ERROL MORRIS: When you picked the Katrina photographs, you also included the picture in the airplane. Why?
President Bush looks out the window of Air Force One while flying over New Orleans, Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2005, inspecting damage from Hurricane Katrina. (Susan Walsh/The Associated Press)
SANTIAGO LYON: Because the picture is on Air Force One. It is his first glimpse of the catastrophe. You can’t see very well through the window. You can see a little bit of a river. It looks like the Mississippi or something in the middle window. But you can’t really tell that it’s flooding. Nevertheless, it became a picture of his response to Katrina. Again, I thought it was engineered. There he is, by himself, in Air Force One, looking out the window. A wider frame would show other photographers, aides surrounding him. But it was one of these photo opportunities designed to show his reaction to the crisis.
ERROL MORRIS: You picked a pair of Katrina photographs. One photograph is a response to a criticism of another photograph. Which brings us to another pair of photographs, Bush at Ground Zero and the reading of “My Pet Goat,” in the classroom.
SANTIAGO LYON: Where Andy Card is whispering into his ear? That’s the moment where he learns of this massive attack. He’s in a classroom setting. That’s one of those pictures where you have to read the caption to know what’s going on.
ERROL MORRIS: It is an iconic scene, if not an iconic photograph. Everyone has seen one version of it or another. In the AFP he has a blank look. Your version has a normalcy to it. You can see the kids in the foreground. Card is shielded by the president’s face.
SANTIAGO LYON: I don’t have the AFP picture in front of me, but the look on Bush’s face in this picture is not so much blank; he’s listening. And he’s hearing this news in a setting that’s far removed from the normal things that a president does. And he gets this news, and it’s a moment where the so-called leader of the free world is informed of an attack that then is redefined. It is changed from a terrorist attack to an act of war.
ERROL MORRIS: Yes, the entire world pivots.
SANTIAGO LYON: Sure. This is where the man who is so powerful and who has the ability to make decisions gets the news. And then he makes a series of decisions that had a lasting effect on the way America is perceived around the world.
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