updated 9/28/2005 11:19:59 AM ET 2005-09-28T15:19:59

Guests: Jacques Thibodeaux, Jennifer Brett, David Vitter, Gene Taylor

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST:  Tonight‘s top headlines:  Brownie‘s blame game begins.  The former FEMA head faces Congress, defending the indefensible, his agency‘s decisions that could have cost American lives.  And he is blaming the mayor.  He is blaming the governor, and he has a remarkable take on Mississippi‘s response that will shock you. 

Welcome to this special edition of SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY, “Crisis and Recovery. 

Hey, thanks so much for being with me tonight.  Really appreciate you being here. 

I guess you have heard already, on Capitol Hill, the Brownie blame game began earlier today. 

We are also going to be talking about whether the media overhyped the death and destruction in New Orleans.  There‘s a new report out that‘s saying that actually the media did overhype it.  We are going to talk to two people who were there that can take us on the inside.

But, first, Mike Brown, the former FEMA director, went to Capitol Hill, dishing out the dirt on just about everybody there, except for the next person, who was there following festivities on Capitol Hill today, MSNBC senior Washington correspondent, Norah O‘Donnell, for a look at how Brown handled the tough questions. 

Norah, my gosh, I wouldn‘t have wanted to be in this guy‘s chair today.  Get us up to date with what went on, on Capitol Hill. 

NORAH O‘DONNELL, NBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT:  Well, that‘s right, Joe.

In many ways, the blame game began in Washington today.  The former director of FEMA, Michael Brown, acknowledged that—quote, unquote—some mistakes were made, but he pointed the finger at nearly everyone but himself today.  He blamed Louisiana‘s governor and the mayor of New Orleans and said they were slow to call for the mandatory evacuation.

And he testified that some needs that he outlined to the White House, Pentagon, and Homeland Security Department were not answered—quote—

“in the timeline that we requested.”

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

O‘DONNELL (voice-over):  In testy hearings on Capitol Hill today, Brown was called to account for the failures of Hurricane Katrina, but gave little ground. 

MICHAEL BROWN, FORMER FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY DIRECTOR: 

It‘s my belief that FEMA did a good job. 

O‘DONNELL:  Brown was asked to resign two weeks ago, but today refused to play the role of sacrificial lamb.  He laid most of the blame on Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin. 

BROWN:  My biggest mistake was not recognizing by Saturday that Louisiana was dysfunctional. 

O‘DONNELL:  Brown testified that all levels of the government knew by Friday that Katrina would be a catastrophic storm.  But, on Saturday, while Mississippi had called for a mandatory evacuation, Brown says Louisiana was dragging its feet. 

REP. MIKE ROGERS ®, MICHIGAN:  Who has the authority to order the evacuation of a city or a state or an area?

BROWN:  Well, I can tell you, the federal government does not and the state and locals do. 

ROGERS:  So, they had a plan in place and didn‘t pull the trigger?

BROWN:  No, sir. 

O‘DONNELL:  Brown claimed that, while Louisiana got it all wrong, Mississippi and Alabama got it right.  But Mississippi Democrat Gene Taylor strongly disagreed. 

REP. GENE TAYLOR (D), MISSISSIPPI:  You folks fell on your face.  You get an F-minus in my book. 

O‘DONNELL:  Taylor said FEMA left first-responders in Hancock County without supplies. 

TAYLOR:  What part of the FEMA plan envisioned that the first-responders in Hancock County and in much of the Mississippi Gulf Coast would have to loot the local grocery store and loot the local Wal-Mart? 

O‘DONNELL:  One of the biggest problems after Katrina was the breakdown in communications between federal and state officials. 

REP. CHRISTOPHER SHAYS ®, CONNECTICUT:  Did you ask OMB for the money?  Did you ask Mr. Chertoff for the money?  Who did you ask for the money, so that you would have the ability to implement Hurricane Pam, so we could have saved lots of lives? 

BROWN:  We put that money in our budget request following Hurricane Pam, and it was removed by the Department of Homeland Security. 

SHAYS:  I can‘t help but wonder how different the answers would be if someone like Rudy Giuliani had been in your position, instead of you.

BROWN:  I‘m not going to sit here and be berated because I‘m not Rudy Giuliani. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O‘DONNELL:  Well, tonight, the governor of Louisiana, Kathleen Blanco, vehemently denied that she waited until the eve of the storm to order an evacuation.  She said Brown‘s falsehoods and misstatements to Congress under oath are shocking. 

And also today, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff was asked to respond to Brown‘s comments.  And Chertoff said—quote—“He speaks for himself”—Joe.

(LAUGHTER)

SCARBOROUGH:  Norah, did—was the response overwhelmingly negative on the Hill to Brown?  Did he have any defenders out there? 

O‘DONNELL:  No. 

(LAUGHTER)

SCARBOROUGH:  OK.

O‘DONNELL:  No, he pretty much sat on the hot seat and took a real whipping today, if you will, before lawmakers...

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes. 

O‘DONNELL:  ... who faulted him on many fronts.  Brown tried to pass around the blame to a number of officials, and I think lawmakers did take him at that point, that clearly FEMA wasn‘t the only organization that deserves some of the blame. 

But these hearings will continue.  Washington has now returned—has now focused less on recovery and more on retribution, if you will, in finding out what went wrong.  And, tomorrow, there‘s another set of hearings up on Capitol Hill that will feature the governors of Mississippi, as well as Louisiana. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Not going to want to miss that one. 

MSNBC‘s senior Washington correspondent, Norah O‘Donnell, thanks so much.  Appreciate you being here tonight. 

O‘DONNELL:  My pleasure. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Now, as you heard in Norah‘s report, Congressman Gene Taylor of Mississippi, who lost his home in Mississippi, had some harsh words for the former FEMA director. 

The congressman joins us live from Washington. 

Hey, Gene, good to see you again. 

TAYLOR:  Joe, good to see you. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I‘ll tell you what.  Man, I was down in your district for the first six days.  I saw destruction like I have never seen in a hurricane.  And, as you know, I grew up on the Gulf Coast.  I never saw anybody from FEMA.  I never saw anybody from the federal government.  Like you, I saw looters inside stores.  I saw 15-month-old kids with parched lips the first three days, no water.  I mean, it was a disgrace. 

I mean, how—how does the federal government get this dysfunctional? 

TAYLOR:  Joe, I got to tell you, it—Tuesday night, when I meet up with the two local mayors, the board of supervisors, and they are wearing the filthiest clothes you have ever seen, they admit that they have sanctioned the looting of the Wal-Mart, so that they can feed the first-responders, so that they can have a change of clothes for the first-responders, and then to meet the FEMA rep on site, it—it was absolutely frightening, the lack of communications, and, above all, that the plan that FEMA finally came up with was such a lame-brain plan, of having a single point of delivery in a county where very few vehicles survived the storm.  And those that did survive didn‘t have any gasoline. 

And so you had state troopers just looking for something to do.  The folks from Manatee County in particular were magnificent to come help us.  But FEMA refused to let the food go out to the people, for fear that there might be rioting or some idiotic excuse, and waiting on the National Guard.  And, as you know, about half of the Mississippi National Guard is over in Iraq.  So, the FEMA people were just totally disconnected.

What I realize now is that the guy I was dealing with in Hancock County was a microcosm of this guy Brown.  They are two of the same. 

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, Congressman, and a great point that you make there about how this FEMA distribution point was so far away from where the people really needed it. 

We were helping people in downtown Biloxi, but if you were in Biloxi and you wanted to get help from FEMA, we saw nothing.  And then a state trooper got on the road, said, here, we will take you out to the FEMA spot.  It was at the Biloxi High School, which was—my gosh, it was like 15 minutes away from the hardest-hit areas.  There was no way they would get there. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  They were stockpiling all of these supplies. 

Now, Gene, four years after September 11, there are a lot of people asking, what‘s wrong with the administration?  What‘s wrong with Congress?  What‘s wrong with our leaders in Washington, D.C.?  Where is the breakdown here? 

TAYLOR:  Joe, I think, in this instance, you had some political appointees in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

I mean, really—I mean, we kept saying, the joke was that, apparently, we must have got the C-squad, because A and B squad must be someplace else, because I hope no one is—not all these people are this bad.  It appears all of them were. 

The breakdown was, again, they tried to use a Florida model in fairly rural south Mississippi.  They did not take into account that the Mississippi National Guard, over half of them were over in Iraq.  They did not take into account the lack of fuel.  As you know, since you were down there, the two bridges that link Harrison County with either Jackson County and Hancock County, they were gone.

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes. 

TAYLOR:  So, there was just a lot of things that they did not take into account.

And as I‘m—if you were there for six days, then you know that the real heroes in this instance were the local responders and the Mississippi National Guard and then the National Guardsmen from all around the country, who went around FEMA and started delivering the food by helicopter when necessary, by Humvee, literally started to go to the PODs, which FEMA insisted on having, the points of delivery, and taking it out to the people, realizing that there was a need, not because FEMA said to do so, but in defiance of FEMA. 

SCARBOROUGH:  They had a terrible distribution system.  I think anybody that was down there saw that. 

I want to ask you how angry you had to be when Mike Brown—and, listen, I just got to tell my viewers, this is a guy that I dealt with in the Florida storms.  I know him.  I like the guy.  But if I were in your position and I heard Mike Brown talk about how Mississippi worked relatively well, I will tell you what, I would have been so angry.  What was your response to that? 

TAYLOR:  Well, my response was that I never saw him while I was down there, or he would have known what a foolish statement that was.  I guess I was further angered to find out that, you know, he does a bad job, so what is his punishment?  He gets made a consultant to FEMA for over $140,000 a year. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Again, well, hold on, Gene.  Explain that to him.  This guy is still getting paid by the feds, isn‘t he?

TAYLOR:  By his own admission, he is now a consultant to FEMA, still drawing a federal salary.

And so, all that‘s doing is rewarding incompetence, in my book.  And we shouldn‘t be about this.  I am not about scapegoating, but when someone does that bad of a job, it‘s time for him to move on and do something else. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, do the—do the local and the state leaders also share blame in this in the state of Mississippi? 

TAYLOR:  Well, again, Joe, Mississippi by design is a low-tax, low-service state. 

And one of the things he kept saying is, where was MEMA?  I really didn‘t expect a whole lot of MEMA.  MEMA is good if you have a single dam break, if you have a single tornado, something that falls within the realm of the state‘s capabilities.

But for something of this magnitude—and you are showing it on the screen right now—that is well beyond what any state could do.  And it is the time for the federal government to step up and help the states.  And, again, we did get a lot of help towards the end.  The folks from Manatee County, the folks from Florida were great.  The National Guard was great.  The National Weather Service did a good job. 

So, I am not blasting the administration.  I am blasting FEMA in particular. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes.  All right, thanks so much, Congressman Gene Taylor. 

TAYLOR:  Thank you, Joe. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I really appreciate you being here. 

And, friends, I just want to underline what Gene was saying.  I mean, the FEMA response was just dreadful.  Again, we went to the poorest areas, and this wasn‘t a race issue.  There were poor whites there.  There were poor blacks there.  I saw poor Hispanics there.  They didn‘t have cars.  There was no gas.  And the distribution points for water, if you wanted to get your baby or your grandma any water, you would have to walk probably half-a-day to get to the FEMA distribution point at Biloxi High School if you were in the hardest-hit, poorest areas over there. 

It was a disgraceful situation.  And you know what?  Mike Brown can go up and defend himself all he wants.  The fact is, he is defending the indefensible. 

Now, as we have seen, the Washington blame game is in full force, but who really didn‘t do the right thing? 

Plus, what does it mean when disaster strikes your town?  We are going to be tackling that coming up next. 

And was the chaos in New Orleans concocted by the media?  That‘s what some are saying tonight, but we are going to talk to people who were there and get the real story. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Things are still ugly in the Big Easy, and they‘re getting uglier on Capitol Hill, as the blame game enters mid-season form. 

We will have that and much more when SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, thanks for being with us tonight on our show.

As we have been telling you, charges are that infighting may have cost lives in New Orleans and that the local and the state leaders there just screwed it up. 

Let‘s go live to Washington right now and bring in Louisiana Senator David Vitter. 

Senator Vitter, rate, if you will, Mike Brown‘s performance today.  Was it really all the fault of the local and the state leaders and the media? 

SEN. DAVID VITTER ®, LOUISIANA:  Well, Joe, his performance was pretty laughable. 

I mean, in Louisiana—I don‘t know about Mississippi or elsewhere.  In Louisiana, there were serious problems all around, certainly at the state level and the state bureaucracy.  And I have been very vocal about that, as well as the shortcomings of FEMA.  But for Mike Brown to be making those arguments about the state is sort of like the head of Enron criticizing Tyco over corporate ethics. 

I mean, he has no credibility, and, clearly, he was completely incoherent in terms of his leadership of FEMA. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Senator, when I have been whacking the feds over the past several weeks, and FEMA especially, I have had a lot of people say, hey, wait a second, it‘s not their job to be first-responders.  That‘s the response of the locals, the responsibility of the local government.  That‘s the responsibility of the state government.  If the blame lies anywhere, it lies with the governor of Louisiana and the mayor of New Orleans.  And they basically say, you shouldn‘t blame Brown for it, just not in his job description. 

What would you tell those people? 

VITTER:  Well, I think all of those folks at all levels deserve some blame. 

I mean, certainly, first-responders are at the local level and then the state.  But an event this big, one of the fundamental truths that should have emerged in people‘s minds immediately was, a lot of those first-responders were completely incapable of responding.  They were victims.  They were flooded.  They had no communications, etcetera. 

And, so, someone in a leadership position, both, in my opinion, the governor of the state and FEMA, should have recognized that a lot more quickly and called the military in particular in.  That is what took too long.  This got fixed.  This got on the right track once military boots were on the ground, but that really didn‘t happen until Friday or even Saturday after the Sunday storm the previous Sunday had hit. 

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, Senator, when I was listening today to Mike Brown on the Hill, I couldn‘t believe some of the claims that he made. 

When he was asked if he made any mistakes, he said, really, well, one of the only mistakes that he made really probably had to do with the fact that he was watching TV and he was responding to what was going on, on TV, instead of doing his job.  Of course, I find this very interesting, because we hear that the president of the United States doesn‘t watch TV. 

Now, if I had a president that doesn‘t watch TV in a time of disaster, I am certainly hoping the head of FEMA is watching TV. 

Do we—Matt, do we have that clip that we can run for the Senator? 

We are loading it up right now. 

VITTER:  OK. 

SCARBOROUGH:  But I want you to respond to that, if you will, Senator.  What do you think about him saying, well, gee, I shouldn‘t have been watching TV? 

(CROSSTALK)

VITTER:  Well, in some cases, he should have been watching more TV, because there was TV reporting, for instance, about the debacle at the Convention Center, and he didn‘t know about it, didn‘t recognize it, while there were reporters on the ground reporting how awful it was at the New Orleans Convention Center for hours. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Here.  I want to play the clip for you right now and then have you respond to it. 

VITTER:  Sure. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Go ahead. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN:  I became tied to the news shows, going on the news shows early in the morning and late at night, and that was just a mistake.  We should have been feeding that information to the press and in the manner and in the time that we wanted to, instead of letting the press drive us. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  David...

(CROSSTALK)

VITTER:  Well, I certainly—I certainly agree—I certainly agree with one part of that statement, which is he was spending way too much time doing interviews, instead of doing his job. 

SCARBOROUGH:  But, at the same time, this is a guy who said on Thursday night that he didn‘t know there was suffering at the Convention Center...

VITTER:  Right. 

SCARBOROUGH:  ... when three young infants had already died on the ground...

(CROSSTALK)

VITTER:  And the press had been reporting that for hours by the time he made that statement. 

SCARBOROUGH:  So, what‘s next?  We taxpayers spend billions of dollars every year paying for the homeland security.  We want to think that, when a disaster strikes, we are going to be taken care of. 

And yet, if you look at the response in Katrina, if you look at what happened in Houston, the evacuation plans, right now, we don‘t seem a whole heck of a lot safer than we were on September 10, 2001. 

VITTER:  Well, I hope, Joe, what‘s next is that we really look at the fundamental problems. 

The fundamental problem is not Mike Brown.  He was a failure.  He was unqualified for sure.  But the fundamental problems are far deeper than that, and I hope we go to those deeper problems.  And I believe a big part of the solution has to be that, when it comes to events this big, we need a very quick response led by the military. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, let me ask you a final question, Senator.  Let‘s say—let me just pick a city.  We will go Midwest tonight, Chicago.  They find out tomorrow morning in the mayor‘s office that a dirty bomb has been planted somewhere in Chicago.  And they have got to evacuate everybody. 

Should the people of Chicago go to sleep tonight thinking that they are safe and they are going to be evacuated in a timely and orderly manner? 

VITTER:  Well, unfortunately, the answer is pretty clear, that none of us can go to sleep with that sense of security, and that‘s exactly what we need to work on.

And, again, we need to go to the fundamental issues and the fundamental problems.  Mike Brown was a failure, but he is not the fundamental problem.  And I hope we get to those issues and those problems, too. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I hope so, too. 

Senator David Vitter, as always...

VITTER:  Thanks, Joe. 

SCARBOROUGH:  ... we really appreciate you being with us. 

Now, friends, I just want to let you know this, I mean, because we have just got to stop right here.  I have got to tell you what this is all about.  I am a big believer that everybody can make a mistake.  I am a big believer that our government is not going to be perfect.  But I also know that order can come out of chaos. 

We have had a very chaotic four, five weeks.  I know a lot of Americans‘ faith and confidence really has been shaken in their leaders, not only on the national level, but also on the state and the local level.  You may be looking more closely at your mayor.  You may be looking more closely at your governor, at your state senators, your federal senators.  Well, I think that‘s a good thing.  It‘s time we start asking tough questions of our leaders to make sure that, when something happens very badly, that our children, our parents, our families can be evacuated safely.

Right now, that is simply not the case.  We are a country in crisis.  And you know what the crisis comes from?  It doesn‘t come from 30-foot storm surges.  It doesn‘t come from a terrorist holed up in a cave in Afghanistan.  The crisis comes from a lack of leadership.  We are a people who are crying out for leaders tonight.  And, sadly, as you look across the landscape, whether it‘s in Washington, D.C., or whether it‘s in your hometown, those leaders just aren‘t there.  It‘s time for them to step up, like so many did on September 11. 

Let‘s go live now to New Orleans and bring in Heath Allen.  He is with NBC‘s affiliate WDSU.

Heath, you heard Brownie‘s testimony on Capitol Hill.  Do you want to say he did a good job, or you have some critiques of him blaming everybody in New Orleans for the crisis down there? 

HEATH ALLEN, WDSU REPORTER:  You know, if everybody is looking at you, Joe, and they are blaming you, you are certainly going to point the finger at other people. 

The bottom line is, the FEMA response was ridiculous.  The FEMA response was basically nonexistent for days, so he can probably sit up there all day long.  And he can testify for weeks and weeks and weeks, and nothing is going to change, the way people view the reaction that FEMA had, not just days after Hurricane Katrina, not just weeks after Hurricane Katrina.  It‘s a month after Hurricane Katrina, and I am not sure people are happy with the response that FEMA has already. 

The bottom line, here in the city of New Orleans, the people that are on the ground, who do they blame?  They don‘t blame necessarily FEMA.  They blame—put quotes around it—they blame government, because most people in the city of New Orleans, most people, rank-and-file, on the street don‘t separate the president from FEMA, from David Vitter, from Kathleen Blanco and Ray Nagin.  They don‘t separate that. 

They see the government as one big umbrella that‘s there to protect them.  And they see a complete failure, a complete lack of response on the part of the entire government.  And, if you want to find somebody to blame, and if you are looking for people that are pointing the fingers, forget the politicians that are all sitting up in Washington right now, because there‘s about 100,000 people down here that are all pointing their fingers at D.C., Baton Rouge, and capital cities all over the Gulf South. 

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, Heath, the thing that‘s really bothered me probably more than anything since this crisis started—and you touched on it—is how you have politicians blaming each other.  You have got Republicans blaming Democrats in Louisiana.  You have got Democrats blaming Republicans in Washington, D.C. 

But what I saw in Mississippi and what you just described in New Orleans are people who are destitute.  They really don‘t care whether there‘s an R or a D before somebody‘s name.  They just want help for their child.  They just want help for their elderly parents.  They just want someone to come in there.

And, again, as you have alluded to, people on the ground in New Orleans tonight, you are basically saying, they are blaming everybody. 

ALLEN:  You know, there wasn‘t a single person at the Convention Center or the Superdome who said, oh, please if I could only have a Republican help me. 

That‘s not what they were saying.  They were looking for food.  They were looking for water.  They were looking for some response.  Who do you think they thought was going to have that response?  Somebody in government.  They don‘t care what part of government it comes from.  They are looking for a response.  You know, bottom line is—and we were—you have been talking.  I have listened to folks tonight talking about leadership and the military. 

You know, if you can look out in the Gulf of Mexico and see a Category 5 hurricane, and Max Mayfield at the Hurricane Center can say, hey, it‘s coming to New Orleans, and the president of the United States can pre-declare this area a disaster area, I see no way in the world that people of good common sense can‘t put the helicopters on pads, spin the rotors, get the food pallets out there, get the water and the blankets ready, and get ready to mobilize the troop, in fact, not get ready to.  Go ahead and mobilize it. 

They did it for Rita.  Three weeks later, we have another storm out there, and you see report after report, looking at San Antonio, where they have got fields of trailers, fields of trucks, pallets of food, helicopters everywhere.  They are ready now.  They see that it can be done.  And so, on chapter two of the two storms that hit Louisiana, they get themselves ready to go.  They are on the ground in a hurry in Lake Charles and Cameron. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes. 

ALLEN:  Did not happen in Louisiana, and it‘s a failure of government top to bottom. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Top to bottom.  And, you know, Heath, we can‘t underline this enough.  Because they did the job so poorly, people died, despite the fact, as you said, three weeks later, they were able to do it in Rita.  And, as I have been saying from the very beginning, four times in 2004, they responded with ruthless efficiency in the state of Florida. 

Heath, stay with us, because, when we come back, I want to get you into this conversation about shocking charges right now about the mess at the New Orleans Convention Center and also at the Superdome. 

Reports are that some people are trying to rewrite history.  Is it to get off the hook or is it just to set the record straight about possible exaggerations about how things bad—how—whether things really were so bad.

And then, this woman was taken hostage by the accused Atlanta courtroom killer.  She survived by offering compassion and apparently something else.  You‘re not going to believe what that was.

We will tell you when SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Her story of faith and purpose-driven life, well, it inspired millions earlier this year.  But, tonight, many are asking, was Ashley Smith driven by something else?  We will give you that story and more. 

But, first, here‘s the latest news you and your family need to know. 

(NEWS BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Is the government any better prepared for a disaster this your hometown after Katrina?  The incredible story of these people who were evacuated from the path of Hurricane Rita will make you ask some tough questions.  Wait until you see where they are tonight. 

Then, she was the angel who tamed a gun-wielding thug with spiritual readings, but now she‘s said she fed more than his soul, and she is telling a shocking story you are not going to want to believe—that coming up. 

Welcome back to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.  We are going to be talking about those stories in minutes.

But, first, during the height of Hurricane Katrina, in that crisis, you may have heard that 10,000 people were dead, armed thugs were roaming streets of New Orleans, and that dozens of bodies were stacked in the Convention Center.  The rumors out of New Orleans, some people have compared it, well, to the fog of war. 

But now people are saying that the media may have overhyped the news. 

NBC‘s Martin Savidge was there on the ground from the beginning, and he separates fact from fiction. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARTIN SAVIDGE, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  September 1, the evacuation of the Superdome is halted amidst reports of shots fired at a helicopter.  One month later, the National Guard says there is no physical evidence it ever happened. 

After the storm inside the Superdome and Convention Center, desperate evacuees told stories of rape and murder. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  People getting killed, people getting raped. 

SAVIDGE (on camera):  We spent three days here at the Convention Center covering the human suffering and heard all of those tales of murder, rape, even children being killed.  But the only deaths we reported were the ones we actually saw. 

COL. THOMAS BERON, LOUISIANA NATIONAL GUARD:  We were certainly hearing rumors. 

SAVIDGE (voice-over):  Colonel Thomas Beron was in charge of up to 700 Louisiana National Guardsmen overseeing crowd of up to 30,000 at the Superdome. 

BERON:  There wasn‘t a homicide, for instance.  There wasn‘t a serious assault that was reported to us.  So, I think that was part of the inaccuracies that came out during—during the event. 

SAVIDGE:  But evacuees weren‘t the only ones spreading inaccuracies. 

Mayor Nagin on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE OPRAH WINFREY SHOW”)

RAY NAGIN (D), MAYOR OF NEW ORLEANS:  They had people standing out there, had been in that fricking Superdome for five days, watching dead bodies, watching hooligans killing people, raping people. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAVIDGE:  The day before, on “The Today Show,” Nagin made his frightening projection of the dead. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE TODAY SHOW”) 

NAGIN:  It wouldn‘t be unreasonable to have 10,000. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAVIDGE:  Currently, the confirmed death toll in Louisiana stands at 885. 

Then there were the rumors in New Orleans that as much as half the police force failed to show up for work after the hurricane.  Now police officials say the actual number of officers who left their post during the storm was 249, or 15 percent of the force.  The mayor admits, officials added to the misinformation. 

NAGIN:  As far as exaggerations, you know, I don‘t know, man.  I was in the moment. 

SAVIDGE:  But did reports of murder and mayhem delay aid for those in desperate need? 

NAGIN:  I was getting a much different story. 

SAVIDGE:  In early days after the storm, truth may have just been one more casualty of Katrina‘s wrath. 

Martin Savidge, NBC News, New Orleans. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCARBOROUGH:  Isn‘t that interesting?  The mayor says, I was just in the moment. 

I will tell you, some of these Louisiana officials have trouble with the whole time deal, where, of course, you had the governor saying in the middle of the crisis, she didn‘t even know what day it was.  And here, you have the mayor, who blames his statements on the fact that he was just in the moment.  How comforting for the people of New Orleans. 

So, just how much was fact and how much was fiction? 

Here tonight to talk about it, we have got Lieutenant Colonel Jacques Thibodeaux, in charge of security at the Superdome, and Tony Zumbado.  He‘s an NBC freelance camera man who was first on the scene at the Convention Center.  And he can talk about what was going on there.  We also have Heath Allen back with us again. 

But, first, I want to go to you tell us, Jacques. 

Tell us what you saw on the ground there.  Did you see any dead bodies? 

LT. COL. JACQUES THIBODEAUX, LOUISIANA NATIONAL GUARD:  Well, first off, I was at both locations, the Superdome and when the National Guard went into the Convention Center.  I led the rescue mission into the Convention Center. 

I can tell you that, you know, at the Superdome, our primary focus was on evacuation, and we did not see the bodies that were reported.  We did not see them also at the Convention Center.  I can tell you that the number at the Superdome is right around 10.  And I know the number at the Convention Center was right about four bodies at that location. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.

What about you, Tony?  You were there.  Was—were there exaggerations about the rapes, the assaults, the bodies?  Did you see any bodies there? 

TONY ZUMBADO, NBC PHOTOJOURNALIST:  I saw plenty of bodies there. 

I videotaped them, so they are on tape.  And most of them, we couldn‘t use because of the conditions that they were in.  So, I got to see bodies there.  I got to see my share of dead bodies, not only outside the Convention Center, but near and around the Convention Center, that didn‘t look of people who were dying of malnutrition or dehydration. 

I saw a gentleman that was—he looked like he was beat up and roughed up, and he was sitting on a side of the sidewalk there.  And the police drove right by.  Eight police cars drove right by.  We tried to stop them, and they were too busy.  I don‘t know where they were going.  So, we saw that. 

As far as the rape goes, the rape, I checked that out, because there was a report that women were getting raped and young women were getting raped.  And there was incidents of a neighborhood group that knew of girls who were staying there, and they were taking advantage of the situation and forcing themselves on the girls.  The girls didn‘t want to come on camera because they were embarrassed. 

I spoke to one of the relatives who told me that there was that going on, that they were forcing themselves on the girls, but it wasn‘t like random rape.  But, as far as the bodies, if you look at the video, I don‘t know where the lieutenant was, but they were there when I was there. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, I will tell you what.  They—you look at the video, exactly what we are talking about, and there seems to be one dead body after another.

Of course, the Associated Press was reporting that three young infants died of dehydration or heat stroke during this entire process. 

Let me bring in Heath Allen back in here. 

Reports tonight that the media may have been exaggerating the chaos on the ground, Heath, but, again, you look at those bodies there, and, again, reports from the Associated Press that three young babies died on the sidewalks in one of the largest American cities, it certainly doesn‘t look like exaggeration to me.  What about you? 

ALLEN:  Well, you know what, it‘s the old thing about, are you going to believe me or your lying eyes?

You just heard the photographer who had the camera on his shoulder taking the pictures.  Plus, as journalists and as photojournalists, when you go into a situation like that, are you the one that is overplaying it?  You put the camera on the partner there.  And when the person says, I need help or give me water or three people were just killed beside me, do you take that piece of video and you put it on television, or do you stop and you say, can you confirm that for me, or, excuse me, I need to get a second source on that?

You are looking at pure chaos.  You are looking at the face of chaos.  And that‘s what was being captured by the photographers that were there.  I don‘t think the media overplays.  I don‘t think the media exaggerates.  Maybe the people on the ground were exaggerating, because, hey, they wanted help.  They needed help, and they weren‘t getting it. 

So, perhaps they would say anything they could say.  Maybe they would say the first thing that came to mind to try and get help.  But if the photojournalist, if that photographer is there to capture it, who is doing the overplaying?  You are certainly going to take that person and you‘re going to tell that story, because that‘s the story of the need of the person that that camera is on.

And I don‘t think that‘s overexaggerating in the least.  I will tell you what.  There‘s an awful lot that was going on there that we will never know about it.  We never saw it.  Nobody ever got close to it.  So, how do we know?  Was it the tip of the iceberg?  Did we miss it all, or did a lot go on that we just don‘t know about? 

It‘s the responsibility of the photojournalist to capture that and put it on television, because those people at that point needed help, no matter what was true, what was false, what was exaggerated. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Jacques, just give us a time frame.  What—what day did you all go in there?  You say that you all were helping the rescue at the Superdome, but then you went on over to the Convention Center.  What day was that?  The storm hit, I guess, Monday morning. 

THIBODEAUX:  Well—OK, well, what occurred was, on Saturday morning and Sunday morning, we ramped up to about 600 soldiers, at the Superdome itself, and we searched everyone that went in there, all 30,000 evacuees over the next three days in the Superdome.  We searched everyone there.

And if we found weapons or narcotics or knives that were not appropriate for an evacuation center, we confiscated those.  And I can tell you, for 30,000 people at the Superdome, we confiscated right about 50 weapons.  And that gives you indication as to the lawfulness of the crowd.  Being a police officer with the U.S. Marshals in New Orleans for the past 14 years, I understand.  This is my city.  I grew up here.  That was primarily a lawful crowd.

And we worked the entire process from start to finish.  Now, I moved into the Convention Center with the rescue force of about 1,000 soldiers and 250 police officers on Friday at around noon.  We established security there in 30 minutes.  We did not fire a shot.  We had no incidents.  We began feeding at about 3:00 that afternoon on Friday. 

And we were able to feed as many people as we could. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right. 

THIBODEAUX:  And then we started evacuation the next morning on Saturday at 10:00.  And, by 6:00 in the evening on Saturday, we had evacuated all 19,000 people.  And I can tell you that I walked through the...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  Thank you so much, sir.  Greatly appreciate it.  Appreciate you being with us. 

Jacques Thibodeaux, Tony Zumbado and Heath Allen, thanks so much. 

Tucker Carlson is the host, of course, of “THE SITUATION WITH TUCKER

CARLSON.” 

Tucker, I want to bring you in here. 

You know, again, I—I mean, listen, I don‘t want to knock anybody that is in uniform here.  Bottom line is, he wasn‘t ordered in there until Friday.  Most of the hell that occurred before Friday.  But I am hearing these reports about exaggerations.  You see those bodies covered up.  You and I both know that three young infants died on the sidewalks, according to Associated Press, in one of the largest cities in America because they couldn‘t get water or shelter.  It‘s hard to exaggerate that, isn‘t it? 

TUCKER CARLSON, HOST, “THE SITUATION”:  Well, yes. 

And I have no problem knocking people in uniform, if the uniform is of the New Orleans Police Department.  They split.  A lot of them left like the cowards they are.  They haven‘t been punished yet.  I hope they are.  But they left that city to the predators who remained.  Mostly, the people in the city were decent, of course, obviously.  They were victims of the storm, but a small minority were predators.

And they—they shot people.  They raped people.  They prevented rescue helicopters from coming in with water and food.  We interviewed pilots who refused to fly in, who were afraid to fly in because there had been shots taken at helicopters.  It happened.  It‘s real. 

And all this second-guessing, blaming the press, it‘s CYA.  That‘s all it is.  It‘s people in authority looking for someone to blame.  I mean, that‘s—look, we saw the bodies on the sidewalk left there for 24 hours, because the cops couldn‘t be bothered to pick them up.  It was out of control.  And there‘s no rewriting history. 

We have it on tape, period.  We have on tape cops looting, New Orleans police officers looting Wal-Mart, OK?  It doesn‘t get more out of control than that.  And that‘s just history, period. 

SCARBOROUGH:  They‘re absolutely—their performance down there was absolutely disgusting.  I agree with you.  Those are some people in uniform I don‘t mind knocking. 

Let‘s talk about your show tonight.  What are you going to be going over? 

CARLSON:  Well, I am getting concerned about the war in Iraq.  I‘m as conservative as anyone, but questions have been raised about, how efficient is the prosecution of the war there?  Where is it going, and, again, why are we there?  I think a lot of Americans are losing track of that.  So, we are going to talk to a congressman, Frank Wolf from Virginia, a Republican who just returned from his third trip to Iraq, and ask him the basic questions:  What are we doing there?  When are we getting out? 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, Tucker, I greatly appreciate it.

CARLSON:  Thanks, Joe. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And make sure you tune in to “THE SITUATION” coming up next at 11:00.  It‘s must-see TV, friends.  I certainly watch it every night after I get out of here and get home. 

Coming up next, they spent days on a bus fleeing Rita, only to end up in jail.  Tonight, hurricane evacuees who can‘t believe where they are staying.  Is this really as good as the planning gets from our government? 

And she claimed the suspected Atlanta courthouse killer by reading him “A Purpose Driven Life,” but it turns out that‘s not all hostage Ashley Smith did for her captor.  That shocking revelation coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  This was the scene as Hurricane Rita battered the Texas coast Friday night, forcing thousands of Texans to flee their homes. 

Now, imagine this.  You are one of those evacuees.  Your local government urges you to get out, and they promise you nice accommodations if you leave.  Well, after spending days on a bus, you finally reach your destination, A Dallas County jail.  That‘s a situation some evacuees are finding themselves in tonight.

And our NBC affiliate KXAS in Dallas has that amazing story. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We went-two and-a-half days without food and water. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Holding our urine for eight and nine hours at a time.  And when they would stop, we stopped in the woods to use the rest room. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  They say they were trapped on buses for hours on end, as law enforcement used guns to keep the convoy of 50 buses moving along an evacuation route. 

WILLIE CAIN, EVACUEE:  When we stopped for gas in Lufkin, they turned us—came with about 20 carloads of police and ran us off. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Then, after being told they were going to a nice shelter, they were stunned to find the shelter was the Decker Jail, where they have to go through metal detectors. 

CHIEF DEPUTY EDGAR MCMILLIAN, DALLAS County SHERIFF‘S Department: 

Precautionary measures.  I mean, we are trying to protect everybody that‘s here. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I don‘t want to go inside there, because I ain‘t no prisoner. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The Decker Jail is a minimum security facility, and there are no prisoners here.  It used to be a hotel, and there are no bars on the doors.  But Kyron Scott (ph) says she doesn‘t like her children being in this environment. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I pay taxes and I work, so my children won‘t have to live like this. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCARBOROUGH:  I will tell you what, just horrible organization. 

Anyway, coming up next, her story captivated the country.  Held hostage by the accused Atlanta courthouse killer, but the question is, what saved her, Jesus Christ or crystal meth?  You are not going to believe this story. 

We have got it when SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)  

SCARBOROUGH:  Ashley Smith was hailed as a hero after being held hostage by the alleged Atlanta courthouse killer, Brian Nichols.  Ashley has a book out today, and admits in that book that, in addition to sharing her faith with Nichols, she also shared her crystal meth. 

I am joined now by Jennifer Brett from “The Atlanta Journal-Constitution,” who interviewed Ashley Smith earlier today. 

And, if you could, Jennifer, tell me about the interview, how she is taking these revelations coming out now. 

JENNIFER BRETT, “THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION”:  Well, I asked Ashley whether it was difficult for her to be as candid and honest as she was in this book. 

She talks at great length of her past drug use, leading up to the night that she was held captive by Brian Nichols.  She said it was not difficult for her to be honest.  She said that she felt it was healing for her to write this book, to share these revelations about herself.  And her goal now is to reach out to others struggling to fight addiction, as she did. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes.  You know, in her new book, Ashley writes about her

long night with Brian Nichols.  She said—quote—“I was not going to

die tonight and stand before God having done a bunch of ice up my nose”

Jennifer, you say she talks about her past life.  I understand this book is being sold in Christian bookstores.  It‘s a story of redemption, isn‘t it? 

BRETT:  It is. 

And one question I asked her was, when she talks about providing the drugs to Brian Nichols and refusing to partake herself, I asked her, was this the first time she had ever really refused drugs?  And she said, yes, it was.  And that moment was sort of an epiphany for her.  She knew then that she would never touch drugs again and says that she has been drug-free and clean since that day.  She has not ever gone back. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Now, did—did you talk about her possible past involvement with this man?  Did she know him before?  Had she either bought drugs or sold drugs to Brian Nichols before this night? 

BRETT:  No, she says that she had never met Brian Nichols before this night, and, in fact, talks about how absolutely incredible it was that he ended up at her doorstep. 

Her apartment that she lived in was sort of out of the way in a suburb of Atlanta.  And the actual apartment that she lived in was towards the back of the complex.  And so, it was really a remarkable thing that he ended up right at her door at the moment that she was coming back from a cigarette run at 2:00 in the morning. 

SCARBOROUGH:  What a remarkable story. 

Jennifer, this is on the front page tomorrow of your newspaper, correct? 

BRETT:  It is.  It is. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  Well, we will be going to that and reading it.  Thank you so much for being with us, Jennifer.

BRETT:  Certainly.

SCARBOROUGH:  Really appreciate it. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And, friends, I got to tell you, again, this is—it really does seem like a story of redemption.  She not only saved a lot of people‘s lives in Atlanta.  She also may have had saved her own.

We‘ll be right back in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  You are looking at a live shot of Humanity Plaza in New York, where they are working around the clock to build homes for hurricane victims.  For more ways that you can help, click on Joe.MSNBC.com. 

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, I told you before about how you could help. 

You can go to Joe.MSNBC.com and check things out there, what we are doing.

Also, I just got to thank everybody that‘s continued to contribute to Christian Ministries.  You are making a great difference.  I am reading your notes.  They are truly inspiring.  And I just want to thank you for it. 

That‘s all the time we have for tonight.  I am on Capitol Hill tomorrow night following the continuing hearings.

But, right now, “THE SITUATION WITH TUCKER CARLSON” begins. 

Tucker, what is the situation tonight?

CARLSON:  Thank you, Joe. 

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