November 6th, 2010
03:24 PM ET
4 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. marie

    @Ryan: Funniest thing I've read today.

    November 7, 2010 03:06 am at 3:06 am |
  2. Coigne

    Bush admits a mistake? This is hilarious. Bush's contribution was to empower borderline morons to think they too might govern.
    Now we have half wits running for office.

    November 7, 2010 03:19 am at 3:19 am |
  3. kerry

    So the only thing he does about that picture is talk about it some more. Nice.

    November 7, 2010 03:42 am at 3:42 am |
  4. Timbo

    Mr Bush where were you the last 9 months in office? Did not hear a thing you did while the country fell apart and the republicans lost the presidency on purpose since they knew the economy was crumbling. Thats why they needed Sarah Palin and John McCain. I am sure the economy did not fall in 1 month of a new president as the record shows it has been built up over several years of Bush Politics.

    November 7, 2010 04:19 am at 4:19 am |
  5. Bob Ramos

    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 do not agree. A Presidential visit would have meant the diversion of badly needed resources on the ground to the visit. Bush did the right thing in not visiting at that time.

    November 7, 2010 05:16 am at 5:16 am |
  6. Tim

    I believe that GWB's presidency wil recognized as a success in 20 years. I appreciate how he held this country together after 911 and his "kick they're ass" attitude. There isn't anyone more qualified to lead a nation than GW. Thanks for your service GW!!!

    November 7, 2010 05:55 am at 5:55 am |
  7. salvice

    i love how all he has to talk about is himself and how everyone ganged up on him for his wrongdoings.

    November 7, 2010 06:41 am at 6:41 am |
  8. John

    That was the huge mistake? The PICTURE???? Not the bingled response? The filling the federal bureaucracy with incompetent sycoohants? Not gutting the agencies? Not giving the "leave business alone" marching orders to the lobbyists he put in charge of regulatory agencies? Not lying to start a war? Not authorizing torture? NOt shoving through unconsionable tax codes using reconciliation in the senate, tax codes which have now left the nation drowning in red ink? Not having that tax policy coupled with endless wars and military pending turning a $5.6 TRILLION projected surplus into and addition $4.5 trillion in debt in 8 years? NOt leaving the nation clinging by the fingernails to the edge of a fiscal abyss when he turned over the White House to reliable intelligent responsible leadership? THOSE were not the mistakes, the picture was????

    Hopefully his book will provide ample evidence for some government, our or any of the 200 nations signed on to the treaty outlawnig toture that Ronald Reagan pushed around the world in 1983 to finally bring bush to trial.

    November 7, 2010 06:45 am at 6:45 am |
  9. La Piovra

    ¿¡His biggest mistake was allowing a photo that made him look bad?! ¿¡His worst moment was when someone called him a racist?! ¿¡In an administration where failing to heed intelligence warnings costs thousands of lives?! ¿¡ Impeding and botching Katrina rescue efforts cost more thousands?! ¿¡ And forcing a devastating war against an innocent nation cost tens of thousands?! I take it we can infer that these other things, then, were neither mistakes nor particularly bad! Just when the current crop of Republicans were beginning to make him look good, too! Thanks for making us smile, George!

    November 7, 2010 07:07 am at 7:07 am |
  10. Dinesh

    Media would have given better picture.

    November 7, 2010 07:12 am at 7:12 am |
  11. Presidential Duties

    Say what you leftists will, although George Bush made mistakes (he is human after all), only an idiot will question everything he is a patriot. Everything he did was for what he thought was best for AMERICA and her allies. Unlike the current president Imam Obama who is more concerned about appeasing the terrorist enemies and pursue partisan ideology.

    George Bush did an excellent job pushing through legislation even with a democratic house and senate which the current president miserably failed to do. Mr. Bush admits to mistakes and the current president even though got pummeled in the last election is still in denial.

    GWB is definitely more presidential than Imam Obama.

    November 7, 2010 07:22 am at 7:22 am |
  12. Debby

    You know its easy to write a book and admit your mistakes after the fact. Watching those poor people in Katrina on that highway in 90 degree heat with no water was gut wrenching. IMO this was Bush's lowest moment as President.

    November 7, 2010 07:26 am at 7:26 am |
  13. Skreeee

    I have more respect for Bush than I did while he was president. I realize now that all blacks do is complain. They could be living in a palace with all their needs and every want they ever desired and they'd still find something to complain about.

    November 7, 2010 07:33 am at 7:33 am |
  14. Margaret S

    The president you have now is the worst in history. Open your eyes and ears USA.

    November 7, 2010 07:34 am at 7:34 am |
  15. Margaret S

    I agree whole heartedly with Ryan. Down the road you will appreciate Bush. I'm not from your country but I like Bush. Most of you are probably scratching your heads as to why the present president is in.

    November 7, 2010 07:38 am at 7:38 am |
  16. joshua

    Are you insane Ryan? Leadership? Haha

    November 7, 2010 07:42 am at 7:42 am |
  17. A Kickin` Donkey

    Sir -

    It is tough being the President especially in an environment where your enemies want to examine every word under a microscope – just ask President Obama.

    Your biggest mistake was as a leader – a good leader must pick GREAT people. They are his face to the world.

    You picked Cheney, Rumsfeld, and "Brownie". None of these should be out in public.

    November 7, 2010 07:46 am at 7:46 am |
  18. jeff

    Of all the disastrous mistakes on his watch, he wants the public to focus on this photo? Good luck with that slight of hand. He was the worst president in modern history, and this photo has nothing to do with it.

    November 7, 2010 07:49 am at 7:49 am |
  19. ChumBucket

    God Bless you President Bush, you will be remembered as one of the greatest Presidents in American history.

    November 7, 2010 07:54 am at 7:54 am |
  20. Dean

    Worst president in history, surrounded himself with criminals and egotistical maniacs. His whole presidency is marked by "huge mistakes", bad judgement, and criminal acts. The man should be tried for treason.

    November 7, 2010 08:04 am at 8:04 am |
  21. Pam

    I agree with Ryan. The public voted him into office, just like we voted Obama into office. Now the media is hitting on him hard as well. Presidents in general are easy targets...Wonder what decisions Obama would have made if the 9/11 attacks happened on his watch....back down from those cowards???? Thank God GW was in office when that happened.... oh well.... life goes on....

    November 7, 2010 08:04 am at 8:04 am |
  22. Edwin

    So "damn right" he approved waterboarding, but this picture was a huge mistake...? I'm no liberal, but what astoundingly poor judgment!

    November 7, 2010 08:08 am at 8:08 am |
  23. Marie MD

    @ryan – if you think this guy is classy you might want to read some of Emily Post's books. He couldn't even sit up straight during the interview. I still think back and wonder how anyone would vote from this folksy hillbilly from CT no less! He is the male version of the quitter from AK. He was a pawn of cheney and rove. The quitter is the trojan horse for the AK independent party but she will never get into high office. She blew that when she quit on AK and her boy toy lost last week.
    I am really not amazed that the shrub is more worried about appearance than substance because people like him are more interested on how things look instead of how things work and, unfortunately, they have no clue as to how to make it work or why things work or don't work.
    We lived the worst 8 years of any presidency EVER in the US. I wouldn't buy his book but if I found it in somebody's trash (where it belongs) I would use it for kindling in the fireplace.

    November 7, 2010 08:12 am at 8:12 am |
  24. Uncle Sam

    Obama will never make a huge mistake with photo ops. His staff carefully plans each photo op and creates them as well.

    November 7, 2010 08:17 am at 8:17 am |
  25. AGeek

    Katrina was a "huge mistake". By that yardstick, Iraq & Afghanistan are the most colossal cockup ever in the history of Western Civilization. Thanks, shrub. I really appreciate the whole you dug the US into.

    November 7, 2010 08:19 am at 8:19 am |
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