ABOUT THAT BOAT STORY (PART II)…. On Tuesday night, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) told a national audience an interesting anecdote from 2005. Jindal said that “during Katrina,” he visited with a New Orleans sheriff, who was yelling into his phone. The sheriff, Jindal said, had organized volunteers in boats to rescue people from rooftops. “Some bureaucrat” forbade it, “unless they had proof of insurance and registration.”
Jindal, the story went, defended the sheriff’s position, and the sheriff “ignored the bureaucrats and started rescuing people.”
Zachary Roth did some digging and found that some of the story didn’t quite add up. Jindal couldn’t, for example, have seen the sheriff arguing during the crisis, since Jindal wasn’t in New Orleans while people were stranded on roofs.
Ben Smith talked to the governor’s spokesperson, Melissa Sellers, today, and she clarified some of the details. For example, when Jindal told the nation that he was in the sheriff’s office “during Katrina,” he didn’t mean “during Katrina.” Days later, well after the incident with the boats, Jindal visited with the sheriff.
When Jindal said he’d “never seen [the sheriff] so angry” as he “was yelling into the phone” about rescuing people, that wasn’t exactly right, either. Jindal heard about the story after the fact.
Zachary Roth, responding to the new information, added:
This is no minor difference. Jindal’s presence in Lee’s office during the crisis itself was a key element of the story’s intended appeal, putting him at the center of the action during the maelstrom. Just as important, Jindal implied that his support for the sheriff helped ensure the rescue went ahead. But it turns out Jindal wasn’t there at the key moment, and played no role in making the rescue happen. […]
[T]he key elements of Jindal’s story were that he was in Lee’s office during the crisis itself, and that his support for the sheriff helped ensure the rescue went ahead. Neither of those things was true, it now seems.
There was, it seems, an honest way to tell the story. If Jindal wanted to complain, for whatever reason, about the perils of red tape, he could have talked about the New Orleans sheriff who was forced to deal with a burdensome bureaucracy during a crisis. But the governor apparently wanted to add some “flair” to the anecdote.
Ed Kilgore added, “I have no idea how somebody as smart and experienced as Bobby Jindal would let these lines get into a featured place in his first nationally televised appearance, before a vast audience pre-assembled by Barack Obama. But it’s not only a gaffe of a high order; it also sears into the popular and media memory Jindal’s blunder in bringing up Katrina in the first place. He’s digging himself quite a hole here.”
Post Script: It’s also worth remembering that if the larger story is true — “some bureaucrat” really did raise questions that could have interfered with rescue efforts — it’s a reminder of the inefficiencies of Bush’s FEMA operation, not evidence of the inherent shortcomings of the federal government.