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. victor nietsnik

    Missionless vestigial remains, pols are organisms devoid of value. You can speak of that silk-suited simian as a leader?! Classy?! He was a quasi literate macaque, elected by shorn sheep! Hotel Aloirav

    November 6, 2010 07:06 pm at 7:06 pm |
  2. RG

    Hmm. so it was the PICTURE'S fault..

    November 6, 2010 07:08 pm at 7:08 pm |
  3. Pat

    Bush's comment regarding his "big mistake" was about allowing the picture to be taken .... .much like his "mission accomplished" mistake. There was no admittance that he made a mistake in being slow to show concern or provide help ..... it's like hurting someone's feelings and then saying "i'm sorry you feel that way." instead of apologizing for the hurtful deed! His goal now is to rewrite the history of his presidency ..... not to actually show regret about anything that he did wrong or should have done but didn't.

    November 6, 2010 07:13 pm at 7:13 pm |
  4. anagram_kid

    The Day Progressive Socialism was STOPPED! Rollback to continue in 2012!!,
    Ever heard that quote about those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it? Bush’s response to Katrina was riddled with mistakes and others have, and will continue to, learn from them.

    November 6, 2010 07:14 pm at 7:14 pm |
  5. Jim

    Everyone does the best that they can given the circumstances that they fid themselves in. Unfortunately, his best was brutally less than stellar and I'm just being kind.

    November 6, 2010 07:26 pm at 7:26 pm |
  6. ralph malph

    Ryan, you can't be serious. George Bush is responsible for the death of HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of INNOCENT Iraqis.
    The lives of MILLIONS have been affected in their country. Thousands of mothers and fathers will never see their children and thousands of children will live their lives never knowing their parents. Plus, thousands of Americans have been killed and maimed because of this "classy individual." I just don't understand your reasoning!!!

    November 6, 2010 07:31 pm at 7:31 pm |
  7. ThinkAgain

    GW Bush is certainly NOT a "classy individual." He was a puppet of Cheney and Rove, who ran our country for 8 years. He is a dry alcoholic who surrounded himself with Yes-Men and who didn't have the intellectual capacity to run our country – as is apparent by the state he left our nation in when his presidency ended.

    November 6, 2010 07:31 pm at 7:31 pm |
  8. Tom

    Best President Ever. Love W. I live in this dump people call New York State and it is a dump because of the Democrats BS that this state is built on. As soon as my job allows I am out of here. Going to bask in booming economies of the southern states that believe there is more than welfare and healthcare to worry about. Eff 90% of the people in this country who get a free ride from the people who work hard and pay their bills.

    November 6, 2010 07:32 pm at 7:32 pm |
  9. Mark

    It is a pity that our political system is such a dirty game that the only way anyone is allowed to speak is by having a teleprompter and a rehearsed speech. These politicians are human, and they make human mistakes. If they were people you knew and they said or did the same thing, they would get the benefit of the doubt. But make a mistake of any sort as a politician, and the sharks come circling immediately.

    November 6, 2010 07:33 pm at 7:33 pm |
  10. Tom

    And if you work you probably have healthcare and if you work you arent on welfare. Kind of funny these are the Dems big selling points. They sell to the most lazy people in America. "Hey guys, get off the couch and vote one day so you dont have to work for 2 years!" Fantastic isn't it?

    November 6, 2010 07:35 pm at 7:35 pm |
  11. the real ib

    Sorry but the worst president of all time is in the office right now or is supposed to be. He is to busy flying in AF1 to even know where his office is suppose to be. Bush was a good president until Pelosi and Reid took over and he forgot he had a veto pin then he was an awful president. guess this will get you far left wingers fired up even though it is true.

    November 6, 2010 07:36 pm at 7:36 pm |
  12. Lee Altman

    The photo isn't the mistake. It is unremarkable by itself. He doesn't understand that his mistake was how badly he led the government during that crisis. Does he think that if that picture was not released, it would have made that situation more acceptable? It is like a murderer apologizing for his mistake... being caught.

    November 6, 2010 07:37 pm at 7:37 pm |
  13. Ancient Texan

    Ryan- you are 100% correct. Like Harry Truman, with the passage of time George W Bush will be regarded as a great President during a very trying and dangerous time. He's been a total gentleman in regard to the present President and acted with class and dignity. Observer- Jimmy Carter holds the title of Worst, but will be replaced by present occupant of the White House.

    November 6, 2010 07:43 pm at 7:43 pm |
  14. Kelly

    He allowed Americans to call other Americans "refugees". That was the worst, coming from a very un-American population.

    November 6, 2010 07:44 pm at 7:44 pm |
  15. rasputin

    that 'mistake' was small potatoes, compared to his blatant & willfull disregard of his own government's intelligence warnings prior to 9/11; the results of which, have turned the u.s.a. upside down

    November 6, 2010 07:47 pm at 7:47 pm |
  16. Milton K. Wiah

    The American ;people know who George Bush Jr. is, a son of a former ;president Bush sr. On the basis of a
    Bush's name without vetting his qualification, you elected him president of the USA. With all the wars, lies to
    invade an independent nation, still he served two terms in name of your socalled democracy. Now
    you are complaining about Bush this and that. You are heading that same direction by electing Republican controlled

    November 6, 2010 07:53 pm at 7:53 pm |
  17. Chipster

    On the long list of mistakes, I would think that failing to send help to the victims of Katrina was worth mentioning! All those people suffering and dying while FEMA sent ice all over the country?! Lame excuses that there was no access were stunning when Harry Connick Jr, ABC, NBC, CNN, and the Coast Guard were able to find their way into the city! Couldn't go in because of gun fire? Excuse me? Isn't that reason enough to SEND help into the area? If FEMA, with the authority to enlist the DOD, couldn't send anyone in, who the heck could? Unforgivable! Unforgivable!

    November 6, 2010 07:55 pm at 7:55 pm |
  18. New Age Independant

    @Observer. Thanks for reminding us all of the liberal left's extreme hatred. Liberals will spin anything into an attack regardless of the truth of the situation. Get over your foolishness and vile posts. You're an embarrassment to Democrats. Perhaps you should look into the cause of the levies failing and where all of the maintenance money went to fund democrat projects in the city.

    November 6, 2010 07:59 pm at 7:59 pm |
  19. rex

    The Bush haters would find fault with whatever he said. He is a good and principled man. He chose a course and stuck to it regardless of how the political winds blew. Of course he would like to have some decisions back to be made over again but that's not possible. The same can be said for Presidents Obama, Clinton, his father, Reagan, on and on. 9/11 changed EVERYTHING. Who "in the know" didn't thing there were WMD in Iraq? The housing foreclosure crisis? When will Barney Frank and the dems take responsibility for their actions? The president alone doesn't have all the responsibility. Many run for cover when convenient. There is no hiding for the man in this impossible office. God bless him.

    November 6, 2010 08:04 pm at 8:04 pm |
  20. ingyandbert

    What an idiot! The photo wasn't the mistake - allowing Katrina to hit with virtually NO emergency mangement plans in place (despite days of warning) was a mistake, and so was ignoring the public shock and outrage for days before making anything approaching a meaningful response. Dubya just doesn't get it. Witness his statement than an insult by Kanye West was his "worst moment" as President - WTF? Not witnessing the suffering of Katrina victims, or reacting to any of the deaths resulting from the war that he lied us into - that would be the reaction of a compassionate person with a conscience. No, with Bush it's never about anyone outside himself; people are objects to him. He is definitely lacking the humanity gene. He has been and continues to be an embarrassment to this country. WORST PRESIDENT EVER!

    November 6, 2010 08:08 pm at 8:08 pm |
  21. Gentle Critic

    @Ryan – are you still in that much of denial that you would continue to hold this man up as some kind of hero when he wouldn't even mourn the dead as they returned from the slaughter he invoked?

    November 6, 2010 08:14 pm at 8:14 pm |
  22. ellen

    How about Mission Accomplished as a pretty big mistake? Or the frat boys' approach to foreign policy: bring it on!

    November 6, 2010 08:17 pm at 8:17 pm |
  23. waterflaws in Denver

    "Class" my donkey! Dubya should be stripped of all his wealth and put in prison for LIFE! I thought his was the worst administration in the history of our country, and I still do. Good Riddance!

    November 6, 2010 08:17 pm at 8:17 pm |
  24. oneula

    The biggest mistake this yahoo made was invading Iraq for no reason, torturing prisoners as a result of an illegal and immoral war, bombing and destroying a innocent country, and being responsible for the maiming,killing and making killers out of thousands of American soldiers. And he's lamenting a photo op. What a joke.

    November 6, 2010 08:22 pm at 8:22 pm |
  25. Bob33321

    Way to go Ryan, excellent post, but you know you'll be seriously flamed for the truth. One the other hand, Bush was one helluva man to do all these things singlehandedly, but yet I wonder how he got around Congress? Help me with this, thr Federal Government can't move into an area, such as New Orleans, after some disaster like Katrina, without being invited by the State, right? Ray didn't ask for help (left all the busses parked), the Governor didn't ask for help, guess GW should have just stormed the gates?

    November 6, 2010 08:27 pm at 8:27 pm |
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