A Dearth of Answers

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, September 1, 2005; 12:30 PM

Diane Sawyer's rare live interview with President Bush this morning on ABC's Good Morning America exposed one of the president's greatest weaknesses: He doesn't have the answers to some of the most important questions.

The White House press corps is sort of used to that by now, but the American public -- clamoring for answers in the wake of the horrific Gulf Coast disaster -- may be less sympathetic.

Bush smiled disarmingly and delivered plenty of assurances in his interview with Sawyer, but much of what he said was not directly responsive to what Sawyer asked. Consider:

Sawyer: "Mr. President, this morning, as we speak . . . there are people with signs saying 'Help, come get me'. People still in the attic, waving. Nurses are phoning in saying the situation in hospitals is getting ever more dire and the nurses are getting sick because of no clean water. Some of the things they asked our correspondents to ask you is: They expected -- they say to us -- that the day after this hurricane that there would be a massive and visible armada of federal support. There would be boats coming in. There would be food. There would be water. It would be there within hours. They wondered: What's taking so long?"

Bush: "Well, there's a lot of food on its way. A lot of water on the way. And there's a lot of boats and choppers headed that way. Boats and choppers headed that way. It just takes a while to float 'em! . . . "

Sawyer: "But given the fact that everyone anticipated a hurricane five, a possible hurricane five hitting shore, are you satisfied with the pace at which this is arriving? And which it was planned to arrive?"

Bush: "Well, I fully understand people wanting things to have happened yesterday. I mean, I understand the anxiety of people on the ground. I can imagine -- I just can't imagine what it is like to be waving a sign saying 'come and get me now'. So there is frustration. But I want people to know there is a lot of help coming.

"I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees. They did anticipate a serious storm. But these levees got breached. And as a result, much of New Orleans is flooded. And now we are having to deal with it and will."

Later, Sawyer asked about gas prices and oil company profits.

Sawyer: "Gas prices going up at the pumps. We have seen in Atlanta the lines backing up. And some of the prices are going up to $4, $5. First of all, what do you want to say -- what is the government putting in place to guard against price gouging? And also, is this a time to call on Americans simply to pull back and not use the gas? . . . "

Bush: "First of all, you are right. We ought to conserve more. And I would hope Americans conserve if given a choice. Secondly, we have done some things to help on the gas prices. . . ."

Sawyer: "Some people have said that the oil companies themselves should simply forfeit some of their profits in this time of national crisis. One conservative commentator, a popular one, called for a 20 percent reduction in the profits. Do you -- "

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