November 6th, 2010
03:24 PM ET
12 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. Gene

    Yeah it was the PHOTOGRAPH that was the "huge mistake", not the appointment of Brown or the fatally too late response. Way to take responsibility.

    November 7, 2010 08:22 am at 8:22 am |
  2. abbydaddy

    Oh silly me. I thought the "big mistake" would be the Iraq War. What's a billion a month among friends...

    November 7, 2010 08:23 am at 8:23 am |
  3. Tia

    I'm still trying to comprehend that his worst moment was letting someone taking his picture on a plane...between 9/11, there being no WMD's in Iraq and the loss of property and life in Louisiana because FEMA couldn't get into areas that freaking CNN news crews could reach...and his worst moment was letting his picture be taken on the plane while he flew over. Narcisism at its finest?

    November 7, 2010 08:25 am at 8:25 am |
  4. Joshua Ludd

    As usual Bush just doesn't get it. It wasn't a photo that made him look out of touch and uncaring... it was his utter lack of response in the first place. It was him strumming his new guitar while doing fundraising in California while Katrina struck, rather than being in washington. Also, his lack of interest in taking charge and actually getting things done in NO in the interminable number of days after Katrina when people were still waiting to be rescued from their rooftops or from the superdome debacle.

    November 7, 2010 08:30 am at 8:30 am |
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