Wednesday, May 09, 2007

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.


Unknown said...

i must (respectfully)disagree with your (and their) visions of what is actually happening

from: the carpetbagger report (in part)

.......Who’s right? By all appearances, Sebelius.

While Snow told reporters that Sebelius was yet to “request” resources, Amanda noted that Sebelius has spent the last year and a half doing just that.

* Dec. 30, 2005: Sebelius writes to Rumsfeld requesting new equipment. “The Guard was critical to responding to recent blizzards and floods in Kansas, yet its ability to respond to similar situations is being diminished by a lack of equipment,” wrote Sebelius. Included with her letter was a list of equipment Kansas had lost to the Iraq war. [Kansas City Star, 1/21/06; Topeka Capital-Journal, 6/29/06]

* Jan. 23, 2006: Sebelius personally urges Bush to increase National Guard funding. In an one-hour motorcade ride in Kansas with Bush, Sebelius expressed concern about “a reduction of National Guard troop strength in its next budget.” Bush assured her he was “dealing” with the shortages. [Topeka Capital-Journal, 1/24/06; Kansas City Star, 3/11/06]

* June 28, 2006: Sebelius sends Army Secretary list of equipment lost in war. In a meeting with Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey, Sebelius told Harvey that the state had lost about $140 million in National Guard equipment to the Iraq war. Her office then sent him a list of the lost equipment. [Topeka Capital-Journal, 6/29/06]

* Sept. 5, 2006: Sebelius lobbies for replacement of National Guard equipment sent to Iraq. “Kansas’ congressional delegation, Sebelius and governors from around the country have been lobbying the Pentagon for increased funding to replace National Guard equipment that has been left in Iraq or damaged beyond repair after repeated use in war.” [AP, 9/5/06]

* Feb. 27, 2007: Sebelius pushes White House and Congress for more funding. “Now the Guard needs Washington’s help,” Sebelius said in press conference on Capitol Hill. “The President and Congress need to step up to the plate and give our Guard members the support they deserve.” [Press Release, 2/27/07]

An on-the-ball reporter noted these examples to Snow this morning, prompting the press secretary to insist Sebelius’ requests for additional resources came from “conversations,” not “formal requests.”

Another disaster, another attempt to shift blame to a Democratic governor..........

Unknown said...

You omit some important facts. After asserting that the Kansas Guard had only 40% of its equipment on hand, the National Guard Bureau reported that the total was actually 605: additionally, the Kansas Guard had its full complement of heavy equipment on hand, including dump trucks, front end loaders and bulldozers--the very things needed to clean-up after a tornado.

Additionally, the source you cite doesn't differentiate between "emergency" requests for equipment, and the "routine" replacement of equipment that was left, damaged or destroyed in Iraq. Fact is, the guard's problems are more than the product of the Iraq War; underfunding of the Army (and its ANG partners) dates back 15-17 years, with the plan (under Bush #41 and Clinton) that eliminated 8 Army divisions and resulted in decreased equipment purchases for our ground forces. And, the Army and Guard leadership are partly to blame; I've been researching this topic for months, and have yet to find any Army or Guard leaders who opposed the plan; they had their sights set on big-ticket programs like the Crusader self-propelled artillery gun and the Comanche helicopter. When you start cutting divisions and brigades, it results in less equipment for the entire ground force, including guard and reserve units.

On the issue of emergency backfills, I stand by my original post. As of Tuesday a.m., the Kansas Guard had not requested additional assistance (through the state compact) for more equipment and manpower. And, apparently, there was assistance--if the folks in Kansas needed it. Oklahoma governor Brad Henry (another Democrat) said today that his state has enough guard resoruces to cope with a similar disaster. The OK Guard is similar in size and resources to Kansas; they've suffered through just as many deployments and the loss of equipment. Why does the OK guard apparently have the assets on hand to do the job, while Seibelus said that her units didn't.

And finally, why is the governor chaning her rhetorical tune? After asserting that the citizens of Greensburg would be "victimized" by a slow recovery (due to a shortge of guard equipment), her press secretary now says Sebelius (ahem) actually meant that the Kansas guard had enough equipment to handle the Greensburg disaster, but might be pressed to handle another crisis over the near-term. Maybe I'm missing something, but her original statements are diametrically different from what her press spokesman said (on the governor's behalf) yesterday.

I'll give Sebelius for trying to get more money and equipment for her guard units (however, that also begs a question: what did she ever do to follow-up on her letters? You'd think that she would release transcripts of meeting with Senators Brownback and Roberts, since the issue was of obvious importance, and they were in a position to lobby Bush and DoD directly. The absence of such correspondence suggests that Sebelius' letters were more grandstanding than substance).

Thanks for your input. We welcome all opinions, agree, disagree or somewhere in between.

G Man said...

Rose, do you not understand how the states and the federal government function and interact? What do you expect to happen in a situation like this? Maybe the big FEMA army should have rolled in 15 minutes after the tornado?

It's the responsibility of a state to take care of itself on a day-to-day basis. It's the responsibility of the governor & state and local governments to make sure things are running smoothly and be prepared for an emergency situation. That's why you & I pay all that good state tax.

Maybe you don't realize it, but the National Guard is not the only resource the governor can call on to handle a situation like this. The National Guard are not the only ones with heavy equipment - in fact, only a small portion of the National Guard even HAS heavy equipment.

Another disaster, another attempt to mask the reasons why a Democratic governor didn't do her job.