Douglas Brinkley: Drubs Nagin in Katrina account

Historians in the News

Best-selling Tulane University historian Douglas Brinkley rips government leaders at all levels for their wan response to Hurricane Katrina -- with his most acidic prose reserved for Mayor Ray Nagin -- in an article that will hit New York City newsstands today in the latest issue of Vanity Fair.

Brinkley, who since Katrina has been outspoken in his criticism of Nagin in frequent appearances on national media outlets -- at one point calling his handling of the crisis "criminal" -- makes ample use of a historian's license to analyze and assign blame. He faults the government response to the killer storm from top to bottom in the article, which is excerpted from his 700-page book on Katrina to be released Tuesday.

For example, President Bush, by Brinkley's lights, put too much trust in ill-equipped federal appointees, particularly Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and then-FEMA Director Michael Brown. Bush also engaged in a pointless set-to with Gov. Kathleen Blanco over who would control federal troops in Louisiana, Brinkley alleges.

As for Blanco, Brinkley credits her with working hard and sleeping little, but suggests she was beyond her depth. He notes that in a phone call with the president the night of the storm, Blanco asked for "everything you've got," but didn't specify what she needed. And he quotes Brown, who has since resigned from FEMA, as saying Blanco "reminded me of an aunt I have whom I love to pieces. But I would never trust this aunt to run a state or be a mayor. . . . I just see Blanco as this really nice woman who is just way beyond her level of ability."

But Brinkley's harshest critiques are saved for Nagin, whom he paints variously as fastidious, frightened, irresponsible, out of touch and, at times, unstable. Notably, the named sources for several unflattering anecdotes include two of Nagin's opponents in the April 22 mayoral primary, Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu and Audubon Nature Institute chief Ron Forman, as well as Forman's wife, Sally, who served as Nagin's communications director until her husband declared his intention to run for mayor.

Nagin, who declined to comment on the specifics of what he labeled "political satire," pointedly questioned the timing of Brinkley's article and book, less than three weeks before the May 20 runoff.

"He was not there so he does not know what he is talking about," Nagin said. "Any real credible historian would not publish a book in the middle of a re-election campaign. This is nothing more than a political hit that will (have) zero impact on me."...

Click here for the Vanity Fair story.
Read entire article at Times Picayune

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