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. Ann

    I despise most of the hierarchy in the G. W. Bush administration. Actions of people like Cheney were treasonous, in my opinion, foremost being the outing of Valerie Plame, and the "alleged" corruption involving Haliburton. I disagree vehemently with a number of Bush's decisions, but I do have respect for him as a person. He has shown class since leaving office, and I do think some of his actions were misunderstood, or didn't have their intended results. I don't believe that he acted with the same self-interest, malice, maliciousness, and meanness of spirit with which I think Cheney and some of Bush's other advisors acted. Politically, I am a left-of-centre socialist, so I could never be accused of supporting or approving of the Bush administration's policies, but I don't think Bush is the evil narcissist that some have branded him. Now Cheney and some of the others, no argument there!

    November 6, 2010 08:32 pm at 8:32 pm |
  2. Drew

    Why the hell is it these guys find wisdom AFTER they leave office.

    November 6, 2010 08:35 pm at 8:35 pm |
  3. Darth Vadik, CA


    Yeah, like Germans thank Hitler today for his decisive leadership and leading a country thru tough times...
    ...get real, Bush was a failure of geometric proportions, not that you would know what geometric proportions mean anyway, just go craw inside your own hole and leave the running of this country to smarter men and women than yourself.

    November 6, 2010 08:39 pm at 8:39 pm |
  4. Robrob

    Now that he's out from under Cheney's thumb he's becoming introspective and much more "Presidential" than before.

    November 6, 2010 08:50 pm at 8:50 pm |
  5. Reading is a huge mistake

    Just the photo was a mistake? Wow, what introspection!

    November 6, 2010 08:56 pm at 8:56 pm |
  6. This black liberal hates Obama

    observer "He knew it immediately and then ignored dying Americans in New Orleans begging for help. Worst president in history."

    I didn't know he 's like Obama. Small World we live in!

    November 6, 2010 09:08 pm at 9:08 pm |
  7. Willa-PA

    What, misstake? He was a HUGE misstake. Look where we are today, up to our chins in debt and nou blaming it on Obama. He still can't speak coherently by the way.

    November 6, 2010 09:10 pm at 9:10 pm |
  8. Weeka

    GW is a modern day cowboy....we miss u!!

    November 6, 2010 09:23 pm at 9:23 pm |
  9. rashinal

    It's almost ironic how in this one simple statement, bush sums up the his entire presidency and poignantly personifies the republican party.

    November 6, 2010 09:26 pm at 9:26 pm |
  10. Liz the First

    A 'classy individual?' Really, Ryan? a classy individual would never have stolen the presidency, the first of innumerable mistakes, made a fool of himself every time he left the country, attacked an innocent country and killed tens of thousands of innocent men, women, and children because that country's leader messed with his daddy. no, Ryan, we will never appreciate him or his worst presidency in history. this great country was almost destroyed by his incompetence. and now Obama, an actual good president, is paying the political price for not being able to wave a magic wand and make it all better. i hoped people would learn from the Bush debacle and never vote for another republican for anything. guess they have to totally destroy this country before some people (Ryan) get the message.

    November 6, 2010 09:27 pm at 9:27 pm |
  11. Mark

    The lack of basic brain activity with a lot of the posters here is alarming. What are you going to say this time next year when George Bush's approval rating is ten points higher then your Obama?


    November 6, 2010 09:28 pm at 9:28 pm |
  12. Bushygoodness

    I mean what was Bush thinking, not holding up his bicep and stopping Katrina himself? That narcissist!! If you wanna blame someone, blame the mayor of N.O. and the governor of Louisiana. Next time make it a MANDATORY evacuation, make sure you are aware of safe havens for people that are not capable of leaving, make sure you have enough supplies etc.

    12 million people defaulting on their mortgages, (during the clinton admin, clinton enacted legislation that forced banks to give out more subprime mortgages to minorities, people who really couldn't afford them) once again, your fault Mr. President

    and the biggest one of all, not stopping 9/11 after being in office for only 10 month, while clinton had (lets not forget 1993 the first world trade attack) 8 years to take out Osama Bin Laden. Your FAULT BUSH!!!!

    November 6, 2010 09:40 pm at 9:40 pm |
  13. Mary

    His WORST mistake was a photo that diminished his image? What about all those people who died due to slow response to Katrina? What about all those Americans dying in Iraq and Afganistan? And now there is talk of Jeb Bush running for prez???? Please, no. We can't take any more of that type economics

    November 6, 2010 09:41 pm at 9:41 pm |
  14. George of the jungle

    aat least he hasen't bashed the president unlike the rest of the creepy repos. They are an ungratful lot of looneys. Loved the BBC calling them Nutters the other night. Lets see how they spin the 10 billion dollar deal the president just made with India to create jobs.

    November 6, 2010 09:42 pm at 9:42 pm |
  15. Jeff

    Didn't you know....Katrina came out of nowhere so the federal government had no warning to prepare to come to the aid of it's citizens..........government people are lazy bums who only seek and feel entitlement.

    November 6, 2010 09:50 pm at 9:50 pm |
  16. Proud Member of Global Zero

    His whole presidency was a mistake. I voted for his father but not him. I lost many friends in Texas when I would not call French Fries American Fries. I lost most with the war in Iraq. Even today we do not speak of him. He is the only thing that we do not have in common as friends. I will support the current President in his endeavors. He has our countries best interests at heart. I just wish most people would do their on research. Look up your representative and Senator. Look at their legislative record....who would not vote to close the tax loop hole that ships jobs overseas? Every Republican did.

    November 6, 2010 09:55 pm at 9:55 pm |
  17. Give Me a Break!

    He lied us into a war, he tanked our economy, and the only thing he regrets is that he looked bad in a photo after Katrina devastated New Orleans. Good riddance to the entire Bush clan.

    November 6, 2010 10:08 pm at 10:08 pm |
  18. SteveR

    His election, also a big mistake!

    November 6, 2010 10:08 pm at 10:08 pm |
  19. New Yorker

    I actually don't HATE him anymore. I do wish he would go back to clearing some more brush and leave us all alone. History has been written already. Too late to change it with a coloring book.

    November 6, 2010 10:26 pm at 10:26 pm |
  20. ozmorpus

    I guess killing off 4500 Americans in a stupid invasion of Iraq wasnt a big mistake. Good Riddance loser!

    November 6, 2010 10:34 pm at 10:34 pm |
  21. Jeff

    I detest Bush, but honestly I don't see what the big deal is with this photo. It's a guy looking out the window of a plane. How is it offensive?

    November 6, 2010 10:41 pm at 10:41 pm |
  22. Debra

    He was a mistake. Thanks a lot Bush for sending our jobs overseas.

    November 6, 2010 10:54 pm at 10:54 pm |
  23. kat

    I'm from Louisiana, and I think Pres. Bush did all he could to help in New Orleans. Hurrican Katrina was a disaster, but a short time later Louisiana was hit again by Hurricane Rita. This part of the state took matters into our own hands, listening to the evacuation notices and depending on our own insurance policies to get our area back on track in less time than New Orleans. We didn't (for the most part) wait for the government to take care of us... Entitlements ruin our country. I feel sorry for the people in New Orleans, but did you see what they did with the Superdome? That's a perfect example (in my mind) of what happens when you GIVE people a place to stay and food to eat.

    November 6, 2010 10:55 pm at 10:55 pm |
  24. karl rove

    a thoroughly repellant human, the worst example od american jingoism next to bill o reilly

    November 6, 2010 11:05 pm at 11:05 pm |
  25. CM4

    I honestly did not like President Bush, didn't vote for him. However, I feel there is nothing wrong with the photo of him in Air Force One. He is simply looking out of the window, looking at the devastation. He needs to be held accountable for all the other legitimate screw ups of his presidency, including Katrina. This picture was not one of them .....

    November 6, 2010 11:06 pm at 11:06 pm |
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