A Little Loven for Sebelius
When it comes to carrying the water for Democrats, the AP's Jennifer Loven has few peers. As documented by the crew at Powerline, Ms. Loven is quite adept at toeing the party line, or putting the DNC spin on her stories--no mean feat for a supposedly "independent" journalist writing "straight" news stories. Loven is also proficient at hiding her own, family ties to the Democratic establishment; her husband, Roger Ballantine, is a former Clinton Administration official who was also a key backer of John Kerry in 2004. Despite that potential conflict of interest, Ms. Loven has remained on the White House beat for the Associated Press, cranking out scores of articles that inevitably favor the Democrats.
Loven's latest exercise in journalistic equivocation is apparently aimed at covering Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius (more on that in a moment). Ms. Sebelius ran into some trouble after the conservative bloggers and federal officials challenged her claim that the Kansas National Guard lacked the equipment needed for tornado recovery operations in Greensburg. In the hours after that disaster, Sebelius insisted that the deployment of guard equipment to Iraq would hamper relief efforts in the hard-hit town:
"Governor Kathleen Sebelius said much of the National Guard equipment usually positioned around the state to respond to emergencies is gone. She said not having immediate access to things like tents, trucks and semitrailers will really handicap the rebuilding effort."
And, Sebelius kept hammering that point in subsequent comments to the media. On Tuesday, four days after the storm, the governor still claimed that her guard units had critical shortfalls of equipment and personnel:
The governor said about half the state's National Guard trucks are in Iraq, equipment that would be helpful in removing debris. Sebelius, who asked the Pentagon in December to replenish lost resources, said the state also is missing a number of well-trained personnel.
"I don't think there is any question if you are missing trucks, Humvees and helicopters that the response is going to be slower," Sebelius said. "The real victims here will be the residents of Greensburg, because the recovery will be at a slower pace."
Unfortunately for the governor's "Katrina on the Prairie" scenario, the White House, the Pentagon and the National Guard Bureau (NGB) fired back, offering facts that largely demolished Sebelius' assertions. Turns out that 88% of the Kansas National Guard is at home, and available for duty; the NGB reported that guard units have 60% of their authorized equipment on hand, and engineering units have their full complement of heavy equipment needed to clear debris and help restore essential services.
Government spokesmen also noted that items that were in short supply (including trailers and helicopters) could be borrowed from neighboring states, but Kansas officials had not requested such assistance. And, despite her concerns about a "slow" recovery in Greensburg, Sebelius didn't ask President Bush for a disaster declaration until Saturday afternoon (almost 24 hours after the storm), and only after Mr. Bush told Kansas Senator Pat Roberts that he was waiting for a declaration request from the governor. So much for proactive leadership.
By late Tuesday, the counter-offensive by federal officials had forced Governor Sebelius into a rhetorical retreat:
Her spokeswoman, Nicole Corcoran, said the governor didn't mean to imply that the state was ill-equipped to deal with this storm. Sebelius' comments about National Guard equipment were, instead, meant as a warning about the state's inability to handle additional disasters, such as another tornado or severe flooding, she said.
Huh? Sebelius' original comments seemed clear enough to me--and a lot of folks at DoD, the Guard Bureau, and the White House. The governor's remarks left no doubt; in her opinion, of the deployment of Kansas National Guard equipment to Iraq had left her state ill-equipped to handle the disaster in Greensburg. She even described the town's residents as "the real victims" of a slower recovery, caused by the demands of the War in Iraq.
So, how can you explain this apparent about-face? Cue Jennifer Loven. The AP's most reliable DNC stenographer suggests that the change was part of a de-escalation on both sides. As evidence of that, she notes that White House spokesman Tony Snow revised his original assessment of what Kansas officials had requested. In an earlier session with reporters, Mr. Snow said that Kansas had only asked for some "FM radios" to deal with the situation. At his mid-day press briefing, Snow indicated that the Kansas request list also included an urban search-and-rescue team, a mobile command center and more Blackhawk helicopters. And, quite predictably, Loven described Snow's revised statement before getting around to Sebelius' "back-pedal" in Kansas.
Sorry, Jennifer, but it's not quite that simple. The revised list cited by Tony Snow is just that. The request for additional items arrived after his original press briefing, and it's consistent with his earlier observation that "if you don't request it, you're not going to get it." In fact, the request for additional equipment was not mentioned at Tuesday's press briefings at the Pentagon and the Guard Bureau, suggesting that Kansas officials had just submitted their revised request.
There's a tremendous difference in a revised equipment list recited by a White House Press Secretary, and a comment "clarification" that's radically different from what a public official originally said--and obviously meant. But not in that parallel journalistic universe inhabited by Jennifer Loven. When it comes to helping a Democrat in trouble, Ms. Loven pulls out all the stops--and her bosses at the AP never bat an eye.