November 6th, 2010
03:24 PM ET
7 years ago

Bush calls Katrina photo 'huge mistake'

(CNN) – It is one of the most recognizable photographs of George W. Bush’s presidency – and it was a big mistake, the ex-president says.

In his upcoming interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer, portions of which the network has released ahead of its airing November 8, Bush reflects upon the now-infamous photograph of himself in Air Force One as he surveyed, from thousands of feet above, the damage Hurricane Katrina wrought on New Orleans days before.

"Huge mistake," the former president said of the photograph, adding that it made him look “detached and uncaring.”

“It's always my fault,” Bush added in regards to the incident that was later viewed as a massive communications debacle. “I mean I was the one who should have said, A, don't take my picture, B, let's land in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, C, let's don't even come close to the area. Let's - the next place to be seen is in Washington at a command center. I mean, it was my fault.”

Bush also discusses the photograph in his soon-to-be relased memoir, “Decision Points," writing, “I immediately knew it was a problem."

The former president said ultimately the decision was made not to land in Lousiana out of fear it would have diverted precious resources to the already-strained recovery effort. But in hindsight, Bush said, it would have been more valuable to clearly show he understood how dire the conditions were.

“I should have touched down in Baton Rouge, met with the governor and walked out and said, ‘I hear you. We understand. And we're going to help the state and help the local governments with as much resources as needed.’ And then got back on a flight up to Washington. I did not do that. And paid a price for it.”

On the subject of Katrina, Bush also writes about another now-infamous folly - when he declared FEMA Chief Michael Brown was doing a "heck of a job," even as key supplies had yet to reach the Superdome in New Orleans while thousands remained stranded.

Bush was in Mobile, Alabama, at the time, meeting with the Alabama and Mississippi governors. He asked them if they were getting adequate federal support.

"'That Mike Brown is doing a heck of a job,' Bob said," referring to Alabama governor Bob Riley. "I knew Mike was under pressure and I wanted to boost his morale," Bush writes.

The president repeated Riley's words a few minutes later when he spoke to the press.

"I never imagined those words of encouragement would become an infamous entry in the political lexicon," says Bush. "As complaints about Mike Brown's performance mounted, especially in New Orleans, critics turned my words of encouragement into a club to bludgeon me."

Filed under: President Bush
soundoff (154 Responses)
  1. Ben

    I respect George Bush for not wanting to down President Obama, unlike Mitch McConnell. I think he is a good person who ran with the wrong crowd(Republicans).

    November 6, 2010 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  2. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    The only thing I agree with Bush saying is that Palin is unqualified.

    November 6, 2010 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  3. November 2, 2010 - The Day Progressive Socialism was STOPPED! Rollback to continue in 2012!!

    YAWWNNNN... And with all the problems we have, ancient news like this is important why???

    November 6, 2010 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  4. Rich in NJ

    Have you noticed that all of his "big" moments were about HIM and not the nation? The photo was a big mistake. His worst moment was being called racist by Kanye West. Shouldn't his "worst" moment be 9/11? Or realizing that he had sent thousands of soldiers to die in Iraq over WMDs that didn't exist? What a freaking narcissist!

    November 6, 2010 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  5. Uninvited Guest

    What a complete disappointment. I thought he at least waved as he flew by. Apparently I was mistaken.

    November 6, 2010 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  6. Voldude

    I can't believe the worst president of all time is more worried about his own appearances than the tremendous loss of life.

    November 6, 2010 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  7. Marco555

    The photo was a big mistake?

    November 6, 2010 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  8. Bobby Ray

    Admitting his first mistake is a huge step for W to start his path towards redemption. His sins are manifold and continue to haunt this nation.

    November 6, 2010 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  9. cathstar

    Bush is a total egomaniac. His WORST moments are about HIM and not our country. According to Bush's book, his WORST moment was when Kanye West said that he didn't like black people. I guess his next worst moment was when a picture of him made it look like he didn't want to land in Louisiana after Katrina and help black people. These are his three worst moments: 9/11, murdering thousands of troops by needlessly invading Iraq, and his administration's horrific response to Katrina.

    November 6, 2010 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  10. leftyintexas

    Everything Bush did was a hugh mistake. That's nothing new. What I'll never understand is how half the American voters can be so stupid as to vote for any Republican candidate in this last election. It appears to me that those people have a very short memory. Now they want more of the same old crap that the Republicans are known for. Just who do they think caused the Iraq war and the economic melt down in the first place? Those of you "independent" voters who voted for Obama and now turn to the Republicans for salvation, you've got another thing coming.... and you're not going to like it.

    November 6, 2010 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  11. hannah

    "And then got back on a flight up to Washington. I did not do that. And paid a price for it.” Yes, it's all about bush and the price he paid. What about the price the people on the ground paid, those who were stranded those who died. They paid a higher price than baby bush ever could have. What a nitwit of a person.

    November 6, 2010 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  12. Decided Independent

    The photo of him appearing to botch the response wasn't half as bad as him actually botching the response to the disaster. The photo was good, actually, reflecting the reality that he was, in fact, detached and ineffective. But his actions actually killed people. Better, he should apologize for that than for his appearance. Among many, many other things.

    November 6, 2010 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  13. Clwyd

    The only big mistake was making us and America suffer through his 8 years in office. He is a criminal and needs to be put on trial!

    November 6, 2010 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  14. Observer

    He knew it immediately and then ignored dying Americans in New Orleans begging for help.

    Worst president in history.

    November 6, 2010 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  15. Ryan

    Say what you want about G W, but he is a classy individual that guided the country thru a very rough time. 15-20 yrs down thel road I think people will finally appreciate him and his presidency. Thank G W for your service and leadership, something we could use in the White house right now.

    November 6, 2010 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  16. Paul Phillips

    Duh...bright one...check the news...WMD's WERE found in Iraq. Idiot!

    November 6, 2010 05:15 pm at 5:15 pm |
  17. Jessica

    The "huge mistake" was not his but the American electorate's for giving him 8 years to ravage the economy and Iraq just as Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast. And now it looks as if the Republicans are about to embark on another round of W-oodoo economics. Heaven help the US!!!

    November 6, 2010 05:18 pm at 5:18 pm |
  18. Death Panel Sarah was his ONLY mistake!!!

    November 6, 2010 05:23 pm at 5:23 pm |
  19. Death Panel Sarah

    A mistake that he looked uncaring...or that he WAS uncaring!!!

    November 6, 2010 05:24 pm at 5:24 pm |
  20. Ray E. (Georgia)

    Those that make no mistakes never do anything. Bush was a good President. I am sick of those that rag Bush for Katrina. The people in New Orleans knew for at least a week that a bad storm was coming. An inept Mayor and Govenor didn't help any.

    November 6, 2010 05:26 pm at 5:26 pm |
  21. L

    It's curious that he labels as mistakes the PR components - the photo and his words about Brown. The big mistake was his failure to respond vigorously to the total collapse in the Gulf coast following Katrina.

    The photo would not have been embarrassing had it been followed by swift effective action to deal with the crisis. Instead he continued to treat it like a minor local problem.

    November 6, 2010 05:27 pm at 5:27 pm |
  22. Arglebargle

    His biggest mistake was being president...twice. The even bigger one was all the fools who voted for him...twice.

    We'll be paying for his stupidity for generations.

    November 6, 2010 05:28 pm at 5:28 pm |
  23. James

    Worst President in history??? No. That would be Jimmy Carter.

    And the current President is giving Carter a run for his money.

    November 6, 2010 05:34 pm at 5:34 pm |
  24. Bob

    The photo was the worst mistake. Not that the city was drowning while he was flying over back from his vacation.

    November 6, 2010 05:41 pm at 5:41 pm |
  25. Byrd

    Bush only admits that the photo was a mistake, not his criminally insufficinet response. Looking out only for himself right up to the end. There surely is a special place in Hell reserved just for him that no amount of prayer will mitigate. Enjoy the slide, George.

    November 6, 2010 05:41 pm at 5:41 pm |
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