November 6th, 2010
03:24 PM ET
8 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. BD70

    I thought his huge mistake would have been about Iraq. I totally forgot about this picture.

    November 6, 2010 05:43 pm at 5:43 pm |
  2. 10characters

    @Ryan: He "guided" us though 9-11? We were so horrified and saddened and hungry for each other's support a monkey could have guided us through that time. In fact, one did. What GW really did with that time in history was squander the support we had from the rest of the world by galloping into Iraq to avenge his 'daddy'. Worst president - hoping we don't recognize historical revision when we see it.

    November 6, 2010 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  3. TamarS

    THAT'S the mistake he can acknowledge? What a sad man.

    November 6, 2010 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  4. sickofthisbs

    I don't have anything bad to say about "W" except he hung out with the wrong crowd, Rove, Cheney, etc. They are the ones who pulled the strings and ran the country. However, Mrs. Bush is an adorable woman..... and I'm a Democrat.

    November 6, 2010 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  5. Sandra

    Just one mistake out of many - most of them are now on the head of President Obama who's taking the heat for his fiasco.

    November 6, 2010 05:49 pm at 5:49 pm |
  6. Terry

    Kinda like the dog lying smashed to pieces on the highway thinking his biggest mistake was leaving the yard.

    November 6, 2010 05:51 pm at 5:51 pm |
  7. Bubba

    PHOTO CAPTION: "Did I do that?"

    November 6, 2010 05:52 pm at 5:52 pm |
  8. Limbaugh is a liberal

    No, taking a picture is not a mistake. Not firing that incompetent Mike Brown immediately and instead congratulating him for the 'heck of a job' he did was the mistake!

    November 6, 2010 06:13 pm at 6:13 pm |
  9. mypitts2

    It speaks volumes that he thinks a photo opp was a huge mistake - not misleading the country into war or the poor federal response to Katrina. Talk about hubris. He's learned absolutely nothing. Well, he was able to wring an apology out of Kanye West. Way to go Bush!

    November 6, 2010 06:18 pm at 6:18 pm |
  10. Tommy Man

    Ryan, sadly, you need to stop letting your ideology cloud your vision.

    In 15-20 years, no, no one will rank GWB anywhere near the pantheon of great American presidents. Nowhere near Reagan, or Kennedy, or FDR, or Lincoln, or probably even Clinton.

    GWB will always be the Boy King whose one chance to show real leadership – going after the Taliban after 9/11 – was squandered in Iraq, and whose final legacy was turning a blind eye towards the loosening of the reins government regulation, thereby allowing rampant financial malfeasance and requiring him to champion the biggest government bailout in human history. Hell, in 20 years, we'll probably still be paying it off.

    But to his credit, his State of the Union speech about steroids in baseball was a defining moment from which we've all benefited as a people, right? Thanks, GWB.

    November 6, 2010 06:20 pm at 6:20 pm |
  11. Observer

    15 – 20 years down the road, Americans will look back and realize more than ever that Bush, who frequently was unable to compose proper simple English sentences, was grossly incompetent. He and Republicans spearheaded an optional war for false reasons against a nation that had nothing to do with 9/11. He doubled the national debt. He ignored Americans pleading for help for days in New Orleans and then praised the performance of the failure he had appointed. He had the support of a huge part of the world after 9/11 and wasted that opportunity to finish with respect for America below when he started. He also goes down in history with military failures like Nero for reading "The Pet Goat" during the worst attack on America ever.

    "Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our
    country and our people, and neither do we." - George W. Bush, President 08/05/04

    November 6, 2010 06:22 pm at 6:22 pm |
  12. Shel In GA

    Yes, that photo was a huge mistake as was the fly-in and photo with Mission Accomplished behind him. Those are political mistakes. I'd prefer he admit some of his more serious mistakes. For example, the unbelievable damage done to our political system by agreeing to Karl Rove's extreme campaign strategies. I doubt we will ever regain the trust we lost. And what about Iraq? The U.S. put Saddam in power, trained him and his army, gave him weapons, ...... to keep Iran at bay. Taking out Saddam, a horrid leader, freed Iran to be the world threat they are today. And, how about his confirming what the Islamic extremist had been teaching – that the Western World, Christians, were on a crusade to destroy all Muslims? The language he used and his statement that God told him to invade Iraq certainly strengthen the position of the extremists. Don't you think we could have taken out Saddam without invading Iraq? And, what about the plans for Iraq after the invasion. Many of us kept asking but never heard of a plan – as we learned, there wasn't one. And, the list could create quite a book.

    November 6, 2010 06:22 pm at 6:22 pm |
  13. Izanagi

    He doesn't see his not having gone to New Orleans to help the city as the big mistake. He sees his having been caught in the picture as the problem. This is the attitude of a childish little man who thinks the mistake is in getting caught, not in not doing the wrong thing.

    November 6, 2010 06:25 pm at 6:25 pm |
  14. Carol

    Rich in NJ hit the nail on the head.
    Shrub is so lacking in self perception and self reflection.
    But full of certitude.

    November 6, 2010 06:27 pm at 6:27 pm |
  15. albert miller

    You mean crawling on your hands and knees looking for weapons of mass destruction in the White House, was not a mistake? How about starting a war based on lies? I guess doing the bidding of your masters for big bucks deposited in foreign bank accounts, could not be called a mistake.

    November 6, 2010 06:32 pm at 6:32 pm |
  16. New Orleanian

    So why didn't the idiot send in military forces to aid those dying in New Orleans? I know people at the various military bases nearby. They were all on high alert, ready to move the minute the word came from the President. Word never came, people suffered, people died. The Commander in Chief dropped the ball, let American citizens die and suffer unnecessarily, and he's all upset because flying safely over New Orleans made him look bad. Just go away, President Bush, you and all your narcissistic family. Please, just go away.

    November 6, 2010 06:34 pm at 6:34 pm |
  17. Benjamin

    I would kill for Bush to admit a mistake or a bad moment with something that actually mattered.

    November 6, 2010 06:38 pm at 6:38 pm |
  18. they call me "tater salad"

    Oh c'mon George, don't sell yourself short.................Your entire Presidency was a huge mistake!

    November 6, 2010 06:42 pm at 6:42 pm |
  19. LB

    @Clwyd: He didn't make us do anything. This is a democracy and we elected and re-elected him. We have to accept some of the responsibility.

    November 6, 2010 06:54 pm at 6:54 pm |
  20. Lin

    Is this the only mistake he's going to admit to?

    November 6, 2010 06:56 pm at 6:56 pm |
  21. ufadoof

    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. "

    Complete detachment from reality.

    November 6, 2010 06:56 pm at 6:56 pm |
  22. tabu19

    I couldn't wait for GW Bush to leave office. Now I wish he was still in Office. When you think things can't get worse just think of President Obama

    November 6, 2010 06:59 pm at 6:59 pm |
  23. scranton

    Yea let's dig that dead horse up and beat him some more, that will make the left feel good again.

    November 6, 2010 07:00 pm at 7:00 pm |
  24. Indiana Voter


    The worst President of all time is still in the White House.

    Bush has more class than most of the Democrats on this website combined.

    November 6, 2010 07:01 pm at 7:01 pm |
  25. Todd stevens

    Ryan, 15-20 years from now, people will know that Anderson Cooper reached New Orleans days before any relief did. People will know that Iraq was a false war, and that precious resources were pulled from Afghanistan where Bin Laden was (and is), and people will know that his financial policies started the great recession.

    But hey, Bush was a nice guy, right?

    November 6, 2010 07:01 pm at 7:01 pm |
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