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. PA Citizen

    I guess Mayor Nagin and Governor Blanco played no part in the New Orleans disaster. Of course if President Bush wouldn't have ordered that Hurricane in the first place, Nagin and Blanco wouldn't be overlooked for failing their constituents and declaring a mandatory evacuation with enough time to actually accomplish it.

    November 6, 2010 11:08 pm at 11:08 pm |
  2. chedar

    Bush entire presidency is a mistake. Not only Katrina. Bush and Cheney is a pair of clown that destroy america.

    November 6, 2010 11:11 pm at 11:11 pm |
  3. gdoke

    Worst president of all time? No way. Obama in just two years has cemented that position with no contender having any chance to overtake him.

    November 6, 2010 11:19 pm at 11:19 pm |
  4. Real American

    His whole Presidency was a Big Mistake

    November 6, 2010 11:49 pm at 11:49 pm |
  5. Really?

    His presidency was the real mistake. The photo just a by-product.

    November 6, 2010 11:56 pm at 11:56 pm |
  6. Wade

    He should of done what Obama did when was faced with his "Katrina," went on vacation.

    November 7, 2010 12:07 am at 12:07 am |
  7. jim

    @ ryan

    riiiight ... and torture is classy. and illegal wire taps are classy. and not-one-but-two unfunded illegal wars are classy

    you AND your ex-president should be ashamed of yourselves.

    November 7, 2010 12:10 am at 12:10 am |
  8. jane

    Bush actually thinks a photograph was his "huge mistake?!" What planet is this man living on? His presidency was a huge mistake! And now Karl Rove is busy again getting all these Republicans back in office. God help us.

    November 7, 2010 12:13 am at 12:13 am |
  9. thomas

    Yes you should have touched down in Baton Rouge , yes you should have done your dodiligence on WMDs and locating those who attacked us before committing this great country to two wastefully expensive wars , yes you should have keep your eye on the ball in regards to the economy
    "heck of a job,"
    How did you like the world seres George ?

    November 7, 2010 12:13 am at 12:13 am |
  10. normajean

    I really don't know what century "Ryan" has lived in but it hasn't been this one. George Bush and his party by outright lying got us into war that took many thousands of our young men,millions of dollars and set our country back by years. There was no leadership involved as he was a puppet of Cheney.!! Classy, good grief, hardly anything he ever did was classy.This man is and was only interested in himself and his own little world. He left this country in financial disaster from which we are still trying to come back to normal. Not very classy, I'd say!!!!!!Leadership? Heaven help us!!!!!!

    November 7, 2010 12:17 am at 12:17 am |
  11. jimH

    politics is a silly game of image. The photo was a huge mistake, but even though there were many failings in the relief efforts it's hard to know whether George was really at fault or the victim of bad PR. it's never the way it seems. Same thing with the GOP scare tactics about the current administration–it's all about spin, and rarely connected to reality. Greedy power-hungry politicians from both parties, and the losers are the american people.

    November 7, 2010 12:18 am at 12:18 am |
  12. jimH

    On the other hand, responding to Ryan: you've just got to be kidding–he oversaw the greatest foreign policy disaster in the history of the US (Iraq) and drove the economy to a near depression. The leadership of the current administration has been in extricating us, however slowly, from the debacle. You can't just parrot Fox news in a stupid way without thinking things through for yourself.

    November 7, 2010 12:20 am at 12:20 am |
  13. Candy

    I get upset when people keeps saying Bush is a decent, well-meaning guy. Decent on what? Well-meaning to do what? When did he expressed remorse and regret for the hundreds of thousands of deaths, and displaced millions more, for his sheer incompetence and cluselessness. If he's decent and well-meaning, he would know his limitations and would not have even run for President and the whole world would have been spared of the atrocities created as a result. Just because he claimed to be a born-again christian does not automatically make him a decent and well-meaning person.

    November 7, 2010 12:22 am at 12:22 am |
  14. Get A Grip

    At least President Bust admits his mistake...unlike the fool we now have as President that makes mistake after mistake and blames it on everyone else.

    November 7, 2010 12:23 am at 12:23 am |
  15. ahetch

    I don't know about his worse moment but mine was letting my husband talk me into voting for him the second time around. His argument was that we should give him four more years to fix his mess. We all see how that turned out.

    November 7, 2010 12:25 am at 12:25 am |
  16. Get A Grip


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

    Worst president in history.
    More like the useless Mayor and Governor of New Orleans that "ignored dying Americans in New Orleans begging for help".

    November 7, 2010 12:25 am at 12:25 am |
  17. Dee

    I refuse to believe that G.W. Bush was or is a bad man. He was just a very bad president.

    November 7, 2010 12:32 am at 12:32 am |
  18. Justin

    Sadly my fellow Americans we need to wake the hell up and smell what's been cookin'. Bush was not the worst President, I suggest you do your history and read up before you say something like that. Yes, as he admits in his own words Bush pretty muched f'd things up a couple of times......but for the things he did do, he did them well. Get off your soap boxes and point the finger at yourself. What if anything did you people do in our times of crisis?

    November 7, 2010 12:33 am at 12:33 am |
  19. Clarissa

    I don't understand what is so wrong with looking out the window. He wasn't ignoring the people in New Orleans for heaven's sake. I didn't always agree with him, but I don't understand why anyone would call him a criminal. I think he did the best he knew how to do in the situations he was in. I agree with Ryan...down the road I believe he will be remembered in a much more positive way.

    November 7, 2010 12:50 am at 12:50 am |
  20. pw

    Bush a good president!. You got to be kidding.

    November 7, 2010 12:56 am at 12:56 am |
  21. Rick

    I agree with Ryan, I think G W was a hell of a good presidant and will it will be seen later down the road...OBama..well, i just wish he would not come back from his overseas trip...hands down Obumma is the worst presidant EVER!!!

    November 7, 2010 12:58 am at 12:58 am |
  22. bobcat1a

    George W. Bush is a war criminal who should be rotting in prison. If there is a Hell he should be there right next to Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon.

    November 7, 2010 01:44 am at 1:44 am |

    Claudia, judging from Tuesday's results, Palin was amply qualified enough to help the Reps kick the Dems' butts...

    November 7, 2010 01:59 am at 1:59 am |
  24. bonish bonishov

    "Mr. The Day Progressive Socialism was stopped". Do you realize that the Democrats still have the majority in the Senate and the sitting President of the United State happens to be a Democrat as well and can exercise his veto power on any bills that is not in the best interest of this great country and its people. For your information, numerous aspects of socialism are in full effect in this country and are making your life better than it would have been without those socialist ideas you don't like. Social security, medicare, farm subsidies, the department of education, the department of transportation and high way safety commission, the FCC, the FDA, the US Navy, the Army, the Federal reserve, the United State Post office, the FAA, to name just a few...Again disagreeing with democrats and the current President is just fine if you can point whatever policy you do not agree with and offer an alternative. But exposing you blatant ignorance the way you do it on this public forum is unforgiving. An educated person does not and should not comport himself the way you are doing it on this forum. I try to read a much comments on this forum because some people are responsible enough to post intelligent information that would benefit many of us. But using words such Socialism without understanding them is simply heart wrenching...educate your self for your own good!!!

    November 7, 2010 01:00 am at 1:00 am |
  25. Lickingmywounds

    I think the biggest mistake was that the American People elected him!! Not once but twice;-)

    November 7, 2010 02:05 am at 2:05 am |
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