Talking Points by Terry M. Neal

Hiding Bodies Won't Hide the Truth

By Terry M. Neal Staff Writer
Thursday, September 8, 2005; 9:46 AM

Cadavers have a way of raising questions.

When people see them, they wonder, how did they get dead?

When a lot of people see a lot of dead bodies, politicians begin thinking of damage control.

Echoing a Defense Department policy banning the photographing of flag-draped coffins of American troops, representatives from the much-maligned Federal Emergency Management Agency said on Tuesday that it didn't want journalists to accompany rescue boats as they went out to search for storm victims, because "the recovery of the victims is being treated with dignity and the utmost respect." An agency spokeswoman told Reuters, "We have requested that no photographs of the deceased be made by the media."

Whatever the objective, those pesky questions about accountability are not going away. And a full-scale political storm over the federal government's response to Hurricane Katrina continued to rage around the White House this week, despite the best efforts of the president's supporters to deflect criticism by tagging it as partisan--even though many of the critics are themselves Republicans.

"There were two disasters last week: first, the natural disaster, and second, the man-made disaster, the disaster made by mistakes made by FEMA," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters this week.

And her Senate counterpart, Harry Reid (D-Nev.) raised the question, "How much time did the president spend dealing with this emerging crisis while he was on vacation?"

Both have demanded a wide-ranging investigation of the response to Katrina.

"While countless Americans are pulling together to lend a helping hand, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are pointing fingers in a shameless effort to tear us apart," Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman said in a statement on Wednesday.

But Mehlman had no admonitions for the many Republicans who've urged accountability and demanded answers for the slow response to Katrina.

The president's defenders have now perfected their public relations talking points: The public doesn't blame Bush. Any journalist, pundit or politician who criticizes the president is out of touch with the mainstream. Anyone who has the audacity to demand accountability is just a big old partisan meannie.

Making the rounds on the morning news shows, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), a presumptive candidate for president in 2008, repeatedly made the point that "the buck stops at the federal government." In another breath, she insisted, "I'm not interested in pointing fingers; I'm interesting in getting answers."

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2005 The Washington Post Company