About that boat story…

ABOUT THAT BOAT STORY…. There were obviously quite a few problems with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s (R) speech the other night, but there’s one nagging question that hasn’t gotten enough attention.

Jindal, hoping to make a point about how awful government is, told an interesting tale:

“During Katrina, I visited Sheriff Harry Lee, a Democrat and a good friend of mine. When I walked into his makeshift office I’d never seen him so angry. He was yelling into the phone: ‘Well, I’m the Sheriff and if you don’t like it you can come and arrest me!’ I asked him: ‘Sheriff, what’s got you so mad?’ He told me that he had put out a call for volunteers to come with their boats to rescue people who were trapped on their rooftops by the floodwaters. The boats were all lined up ready to go — when some bureaucrat showed up and told them they couldn’t go out on the water unless they had proof of insurance and registration.

“I told him, ‘Sheriff, that’s ridiculous.’ And before I knew it, he was yelling into the phone: ‘Congressman Jindal is here, and he says you can come and arrest him too!’ Harry just told the boaters to ignore the bureaucrats and start rescuing people.”

Jindal has told the same story quite a few times.

Now, the governor bringing up Harry Lee is itself problematic, given the former sheriff’s controversial background with racism. But then there’s that other issue: did any of this actually happen? Was Lee fighting a bureaucracy in the midst of a crisis? Did Jindal come to his aid? Did “some bureaucrat” interfere with a rescue effort?

We can’t ask Lee for his version of events; he died in 2007. But there’s ample evidence that Jindal has … how do I put this gently … taken some liberties.

Zachary Roth did some digging and found some interesting details. First, for example, Lee later acknowledged that he “didn’t find out about the license and registration issue until about seven days after the incident.” Second, Jindal couldn’t have seen Lee arguing during the crisis, since Jindal wasn’t in New Orleans while people were stranded on roofs. Third, as Roth documents, details of Jindal’s story have “evolved” over time.

Jindal’s anecdote is, to be sure, a great story. It’d be even better if it were true.

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