Commentaries, Global Warming, Opinions   Cover   •   Commentary   •   Books & Reviews   •   Climate Change   •   Site Links   •   Feedback
"And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." - John 8:32
WEBCommentary Contributor
Author:  Michael J. Gaynor
Bio: Michael J. Gaynor
Date:  October 26, 2007
Print article - Printer friendly version

Email article link to friend(s) - Email a link to this article to friends

Facebook - Facebook

Topic category:  Other/General

Mike Brown: Disaster Expert Wrongly Vilified Again

Either Al Kamen of the Washington Post and Susan Davis of Wall Street Journal Online are not up to date and still deceived, or they knew or feared that former FEMA Director Michael Brown would explain that environmentalists bear some of the blame for the wildfires in southern California and determined to try to discredit him.

Margaret Carlson, Bloomberg News, March 3, 2006:

"We got it all wrong, and by we I mean everyone except President George W. Bush. By comparison to other public officials on the job — or not — during Hurricane Katrina, Brownie did do a heckuva job."

"It turns out that of all the officials at the Department of Homeland Security, it was Michael Brown, the former Federal Emergency Management Agency chief, who warned how bad the storm would be, that red tape would have to be cut to get enough equipment and manpower to the scene. Homeland Security head Michael Chertoff is the dolt who didn't have a clue and flew off to Atlanta for a conference on bird flu, a problem for sure, but not one about to kill 1,300 people."

Mr. Brown's background in emergency management began in Edmond, Oklahoma, where he served as Assistant to the City Manager, worked closely with emergency services, including the police and fire departments, and coordinated the city’s development of emergency contingency plans and the creation of an emergency operations center. As Under Secretary of U.S. Homeland Security and Director of FEMA, he led the U.S. federal response to over 160 Presidential declared disasters, which have included some of the largest and worst in human history, including the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City and the Pentagon; Columbia shuttle disaster in 2003; Bam Iran earthquake; 2003 historic California and Western U.S. Wildfire season; the unprecedented string of hurricanes the swept the Southeastern United States in 2004 and 2005 including Hurricane Katrina; and the tsunami in South Asia. In total, Mr. Brown has over 25 years in public service focused primarily on disaster planning, preparation and emergency management.

Mr. Brown after Huricane Katrina:

"I hope...that the public, Congress, and especially the Administration, will heed the warnings I wrote to them in 2003, 2004 and 2005, that this kind of disaster was inevitable because of the way the Department of Homeland Security was functioning....

"In January, 2005, I came to the conclusion that FEMA was doomed to failure. But rather than quit immediately (which my wife reminds me constantly was a huge mistake for our family) I commissioned an internal study (the 'Mitre Report') in order to leave a legacy of how FEMA could make things work that were broken — logistics, supply chains, communications. We were never able to finish that study because of a lack of funding and of course, impending disasters."

Either Al Kamen of the Washington Post and Susan Davis of Wall Street Journal Online are not up to date and still deceived, or they knew or feared that former FEMA Director Michael Brown would explain that environmentalists bear some of the blame for the wildfires in southern California and determined to try to discredit him.

Al Kamen, Washington Post, October 24, 2007:

"This just in from New York PR type Rita Larchar, who notes that 10,000 of the hundreds of thousands of people uprooted by California's wildfires 'have taken shelter at the local NFL stadium,' something 'vaguely reminiscent of circumstances of Hurricane Katrina evacuees two years ago.'

"So who better to advise us than former FEMA director and Katrina veteran Michael 'Heck of a Job, Brownie' Brown? 'The agency has learned some hard lessons regarding the handling of mass evacuations," Larchar's e-mail quotes him as saying, 'especially in regard to the bureaucratic red tape . . . involved.'

"Brown, Larchar says, 'can offer advice to residents and businesses on proper relief and recovery efforts and advice for future disaster preparedness.'

"A great country, a truly great country."

A great country badly served by manipulative media types like Al Kamen.

Ms. Larchar was right: Mr. Brown "can offer advice to residents and businesses on proper relief and recovery efforts and advice for future disaster preparedness." but some people have an interest in vilifying him and/or discrediting his expert advice.

Truth be told, the federal failure involving Hurricane Katrina essentially occurred DESPITE Mr. Brown, not because of him.

In other words, Mr. Kamen doesn't know what he's talking about, at best.

Mr. Brown opposed the inclusion of FEMA in the Department of Homeland Security.

It was included anyway.

Mr. Brown recommended that FEMA prepare for the kind of catastrophe that occurred to New Orleans.

Such preparation was not funded.

Mr. Brown tried to get New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagan and Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco to put aside their political feuding and put their efforts into timely evacuation, and even got President Bush to personally do the same.

Emperor Nero reputedly fiddled while Rome burned. The feuding Democrats dawdled and New Orleans (much of which is below sea level), flooded.

It wasn't Mr. Brown's (or President Bush's) fault that they dawdled.

Remember, in 2004, when Florida was hit with three hurricanes in quick succession, Congress honored Mr. Brown for the way he led the federal effort in responding to those natural disasters.

Unfortunately for Mr. Brown, President Bush and the rest of America that got stuck with the bill for the corruption and incompetence that prevailed in New Orleans and Louisiana and exacerbated what was a monumental natural disaster, Louisiana and New Orleans had not prepared and, just as the major media believed what it wanted to believe and grossly misreported the Duke case (because the phony gang rape charge fit the agenda of political correctness extremism), the major media scapegoated Mr. Brown, a conservative white Republican, instead of telling the whole ugly story, and President Bush was satisfied that they had chosen Mr. Brown instead of himself or Michael Chertoff, his Homeland Security Secretary, who didn't know what to do and made things worse by focusing on his public image and tantruming that Mr. Brown (as a competent FEMA director) was working in the field instead of waiting for Mr. Chertoff's calls.

Wall Street Journal Online's Ms. Davis is responsible for its "Washington Wire," but when it comes to knowing the true story of Hurricane Katrina, she's not wired in and apparently not interested in being so.

The subject line of Ms. Larchar's email to Ms. Davis read "Mike Brown on California Wildfires."

The text continued:

"As the California wildfires blaze through Southern California, more than 500,000 people have been forced from their homes. An estimated 10,000 of them have taken shelter at the local NFL stadium, Qualcomm, vaguely reminiscent of circumstances of Hurricane Katrina evacuees two years ago.

"Michael Brown, former director of FEMA, says, 'The agency has learned some hard lessons regarding the handling of mass evacuations especially in regard to the bureaucratic red tape that is involved in such a process.'

"Brown can speak to this and new processes in disaster relief efforts with his involvement with Cotton Companies, one of the leading disaster preparedness and restoration organization in the nation. He can offer advice to residents and businesses on proper relief and recovery efforts and advice for future disaster preparedness.

"Since its inception in 1996, Cotton Companies, the nation’s leading provider of disaster recovery services, has been coming to the aid of businesses and communities coast to coast with its ability to react, take charge, mobilize and execute on the spot crisis management. Cotton has responded to such high-alert disasters as Hurricane Katrina and the tragedy of 9/11 in New York City.

"To speak to Michael Brown, please contact Rita Larchar at or at 212-584-4271"

Ms. Davis then ignorantly and gratuitously attacked Mr. Brown in "Washington Wire":

"Brownie, You’ve Got a Heck of a Job"Susan Davis reports on the California wildfires.

"Washington Wire was a little stunned to receive a press release today hawking disgraced former Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Michael Brown as 'available for interviews' to discuss the wildfire crisis in Southern California.

"Brown, who became the face of government mismanagement following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and was ultimately forced out of the job following a national uproar, is now director of corporate strategy for Cotton Cos., a 'leading provider of disaster recovery services,' according to the release. It’s a regular practice in Washington for companies and public relations firms to promote their internal experts to the media for interviews on the issues of the day.

"Whether Brown is an expert on disaster preparedness is open for debate. 'Mr. Brown can speak to the turmoil being caused by the California wildfires as well as to some of the new processes in disaster relief efforts that will help to restore California communities. He can offer advice to residents and businesses on proper relief and recovery efforts and provide suggestions for future disaster preparedness,' the press release states.

"In a particularly nervy move, the release also draws parallels between the California fires and the 2005 hurricane that devastated New Orleans and much of the Gulf Coast — and tagged then-FEMA Director Brown as incompetent and unqualified. 'Currently, the brush fires are affecting hundreds of local businesses and have forced more than 500,000 people out of their homes. Of these 500,000 people, an estimated 10,000 of them have taken shelter at the local NFL stadium, Qualcomm, vaguely reminiscent of circumstances of Hurricane Katrina evacuees two years ago.'

"Brown, who never worked in disaster preparedness before he was chosen for the FEMA job by President Bush, had this to say: 'The agency has learned some hard lessons regarding the handling of mass evacuations especially in regard to the bureaucratic red tape that is involved in such a process.' He went on, 'This is a tragic time for many of the people of California, and Cotton Companies is working to ensure that normalcy is restored and that businesses and organizations are back up and running as soon as possible.'"

Mr. Brown in an interview with The Oklahoman on 9/20/2007: "I think the most disappointing thing is to do that and really be trying your best and have people just ignore the truth and ignore what you’re trying to do and get beat up publicly like I did. I wouldn’t wish that on anybody."

But Ms. Davis apparently wished that on Mr. Brown and came out swinging wildly.

Alan DeCarlo, October 24, 2007:

"I’ve been around politics long enough to know a snow job when I see it, and this is a major one. The Washington Post, this WSJ piece and a few other bloggers ran some defaming piece today about Michael Brown and indicated in a less than journalistic way that Brownie is apparently responsible for just about all the woes that hit New Orleans during Katrina.

"Does anyone stop to listen carefully, or do we merely shoot from the hip because it is convenient to do so? Brown asked to resign prior to Katrina, stemming from an unfortunate meeting with Colin Powell and President Bush following the Tsunami in Indonesia, when it was apparent to Brown that the administration would not lend the resources to FEMA needed to prepare for a disaster.

"Andrew Card convinced Brown to stay until after Labor Day - which turned out to be a big career error for Brown. Katrina hit and history was etched in the rubble of that disaster.

"Brown has since been trying to reclaim his honor with a degree of dignity - by at first trying to stay loyal, but it became enough.

"On Wolf Blitzer this summer, on Cavuto and in various other venues, Brown has made the argument that he was thrown under a bus by George the Younger. The NY Times ran an editorial in July stating that while we all thought Brown bungled the job, in fact, FEMA is far worse off today that it was when Brown was there.

"Who better to talk about what FEMA needs to do and what the people of California need from the government, than someone who saw first hand how FEMA messed up, what was needed and unfortunately, what the U.S. was unable to deliver to the people? Kudos to Brown for not hiding under a rock and for speaking up now.

"Who knows, maybe someone will actually get embarrassed into actually making our absent administration work for the people of the country, in the country itself. Keep on talking Brownie, 'heckuva job!'"

In "The WHOLE truth about the Katrina catastrophe, please," posted on May 1, 2006," I wrote:

"The good news is that with (1) the passage of time, (2) former FEMA Director Michael D. Brown's frank and forceful testimony before both House and Senate committees, (3) the media's eventual publication of two August 2005 transcripts showing that Mr. Brown WAS fully focused on and leading the federal response to Hurricane Katrina, asking the right questions, urging the necessary governmental actions and generally doing a commendable job (especially when compared to everyone else in high authority) in a catastrophic situation made much worse by Louisiana's long history of incompetence and corruption and the federal government's prior rejection of Mr. Brown's wise recommendations about keeping FEMA independent and efficient and preparing for exactly the kind of catastrophe Hurricane Katrina became, and (4) Mr. Brown's many media appearances since Laura Ingraham interviewed him on her radio show on March 2, 2006, the restoration of Mr. Brown's well deserved reputation as a highly competent manager and a compassionate conservative has largely been accomplished. Ironically, the Senate report quietly adopted many of Mr. Brown's recommendations while publicly blaming him and putting no blame on Congress.

"The bad news is that (1) Congress and the President have not owned up to their responsibility for not doing a better job in bailing out the incompetent local authorities, who earned the bulk of the blame by recklessly failing to prepare properly, foolishly failing to prioritize properly, and stupidly failing to order and to implement a mandatory evacuation sooner (despite the urging of Mr. Brown and, at his request, the President), (2) there was no apology for the scandalous scapegoating of Mr. Brown and (3), instead, the Senate report sillily chided Mr. Brown for doing what he and prior FEMA directors, both Republican and Democrat, had done for years and what the Senate report recommended be down by the head of a new FEMA in the future — deal directly with the President during a major catastrophe."

I explained the nature of Mr. Brown's huge PR problem: "The problem was that Mr. Brown was not heeded, not that Mr. Brown could not lead. The problem was that Secretary Chertoff was unqualified to lead in a hurricane crisis, not that Mr. Brown was unqualified to do so. The problem was that Mr. Brown needed to deal directly with the President, time being critical. The problem was that the President needed a scapegoat, because the Democrats and the major media targeted him instead of the first responders in Louisiana and New Orleans."

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee report, "Hurricane Katrina: A Nation Still Unprepared": As the storm approached, "Leadership — direction, encouragement, a sense of purpose and urgency — was needed. Secretary Chertoff did not provide it. ... Despite knowledge that Katrina was a looming 'nightmare scenario,' DHS Secretary Chertoff failed to adequately prepare the federal government for what became one of the most destructive natural disasters in the nation's history."

Ms. Davis, Mr. Brown had plenty of experience dealing with natural disasters before Katrina. He joined FEMA as general counsel and served for years before ultimately became its acting director.

More importantly, Mr. Brown actually appreciated what needed to be done and tried to do it.

Mr. Brown explained during a radio interview by Tony Snow before Mr. Snow went to work for President Bush.

SNOW: So what do you think happened in Louisiana? Why did it end up being such a mess?

BROWN: Well, and here's where I have to be totally honest: one, I made some mistakes; but two, everything that I had been predicting and trying to get Tom Ridge and Chertoff to recognize was that they were taking away — I had specifically asked for catastrophic disaster planning because FEMA had never done that.

And the first place I wanted to do that planning was in New Orleans, because I knew that could be a major disaster.

SNOW: When did you first ask for that to be done in New Orleans?

BROWN: 2003.

SNOW: So 2003, so a full two years before the hurricane, you wanted to start game planning. Was this in the event of a hurricane?

BROWN: It was in the event of a hurricane, because we were afraid that two things could happen: either the hurricane could strike directly on New Orleans and breach the levees, or Lake Pontchartrain, on the back side of a hurricane, could begin to flood. And then, either way, you've got a system where the levees aren't going to work, the pumps aren't going to work, and you have a truly catastrophic disaster.

SNOW: Did you try to get assistance or support from elected officials in Louisiana as you were trying to put together this plan?

BROWN: Yes, and in fact, we got enough money initially to do one exercise, which identified with the city of New Orleans and the state the problems that we now see in Katrina.

SNOW: Was Ray Nagin familiar with this exercise?

BROWN: I don't think so. I don't think that — I don't think he participated.

SNOW: Was the governor familiar with this exercise?

BROWN: I don't think she was. You know, what happened in Louisiana was, the people who were involved originally in that exercise, one of them, who's name happened to be Mike Brown — Colonel Mike Brown, who was our emergency manager — was indicted for misuse of FEMA funds. So he was out of the picture. So the people who had kind of really participated weren't all necessarily around again.

SNOW: So nobody — so you had actually game-planned some of this.

BROWN: I had game-planned it because I convinced the Office of Management and Budget in the White House to give me some money to start the game planning.

We did the exercise, but when I went back to say, Look, here are all the problems we've identified, now give me the money so we can do the follow up to do the planning and procedures of how to fix these things, then — and I want to be very clear about this: both Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff refused to give me the money for that future planning.

SNOW: All right. So in other words, internal disputes: you didn't get the money, you didn't get to do the planning.

BROWN: That's right.

Blogger TMV apologized to Mr. Brown long ago:

FROM: TMVTO: Michael Brown, former FEMA ChiefRE: Our posts and the way we characterized you.

Dear Michael Brown:

We were wrong. And we owe you an apology.

In watching the recent videos of videoconferences immediately before and during Katrina, we were struck by one fact: in these tapes you are the one virtually clamoring for government action. In fact, at one point it seemed you were frantically hoping that the scope of the potential disaster was understood by everyone.

This didn't gibe with the image we had gotten from other news reports of what didn't happen, mistakes that were made, and your emails. All of that is still there...but it wasn't the whole picture which now becomes more clear with the videos.

Like most of the news media and many blogs, when the news came out about the controversy swirling around your resume during the Katrina crisis, it was a story we commented on — and not favorably. And since we can't resist an occasional "snark swipe" on posts where we express a stronger view, several times we even ran a graphic of a horse's behind as an editorial statement.

It still fits, but now it's what we see in the mirror.

This is not to say that say you, local and state officials are off the hook for some of the mind-boggling failures during the storm.

But it's not accurate to suggest that if you hadn't been there, a lot of what happened wouldn't have happened. Because the tapes and transcripts show you were trying to get the government to move faster.

From what we've recently seen and read, your chances of having gotten this government to move faster were about as great as if you had tried to push the Grand Canyon into New Jersey.

So, yes, we now do feel you were made a scapegoat for higher ups who either wanted to avoid getting some of the blame or perhaps any blame that could actually have real consequences. And others agree with TMV. So you got the boot and information came out or was perhaps leaked that created an image of you as a guy who had a background in dealing with horses, was a crony and simply didn't have a clue.

But the tapes showed something else — which doesn't erase the bungling that cost lives during Katrina. It will, though, erase part of the image that has been out there since Katrina when the name "Michael Brown" was spoken.

It's likely that history, the mainstream news media and some non-lockstep GOP blogs will treat you kinder now and give you credit for at least trying to alert the government to how bad it would be in a way that in retrospect almost makes you look like a bit of a psychic.

TMV apologizes for getting it wrong. Over the next few weeks we will go back into our archives and put a link to this post on all of the earlier posts that poked fun at you or denigrated you.

And here's some more good news for you: because of what's on the tapes and in those transcripts, its unlikely you'll be a punch line for late night comics anymore — while those who seemingly used you to deflect blame and consequences from themselves will continue to provide lots of material and high joke-to-laugh ratios for Leno, Letterman and Stewart.


Will Mr. Kamen and/or Ms. Davis apologize to Mr. Brown next?

I only know that they should.

Michael J. Gaynor

Send email feedback to Michael J. Gaynor

Biography - Michael J. Gaynor

Michael J. Gaynor has been practicing law in New York since 1973. A former partner at Fulton, Duncombe & Rowe and Gaynor & Bass, he is a solo practitioner admitted to practice in New York state and federal courts and an Association of the Bar of the City of New York member.

Gaynor graduated magna cum laude, with Honors in Social Science, from Hofstra University's New College, and received his J.D. degree from St. John's Law School, where he won the American Jurisprudence Award in Evidence and served as an editor of the Law Review and the St. Thomas More Institute for Legal Research. He wrote on the Pentagon Papers case for the Review and obscenity law for The Catholic Lawyer and edited the Law Review's commentary on significant developments in New York law.

The day after graduating, Gaynor joined the Fulton firm, where he focused on litigation and corporate law. In 1997 Gaynor and Emily Bass formed Gaynor & Bass and then conducted a general legal practice, emphasizing litigation, and represented corporations, individuals and a New York City labor union. Notably, Gaynor & Bass prevailed in the Second Circuit in a seminal copyright infringement case, Tasini v. New York Times, against newspaper and magazine publishers and Lexis-Nexis. The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed, 7 to 2, holding that the copyrights of freelance writers had been infringed when their work was put online without permission or compensation.

Gaynor currently contributes regularly to,,, and and has contributed to many other websites. He has written extensively on political and religious issues, notably the Terry Schiavo case, the Duke "no rape" case, ACORN and canon law, and appeared as a guest on television and radio. He was acknowledged in Until Proven Innocent, by Stuart Taylor and KC Johnson, and Culture of Corruption, by Michelle Malkin. He appeared on "Your World With Cavuto" to promote an eBay boycott that he initiated and "The World Over With Raymond Arroyo" (EWTN) to discuss the legal implications of the Schiavo case. On October 22, 2008, Gaynor was the first to report that The New York Times had killed an Obama/ACORN expose on which a Times reporter had been working with ACORN whistleblower Anita MonCrief.

Gaynor's email address is

Read other commentaries by Michael J. Gaynor.

Copyright © 2007 by Michael J. Gaynor
All Rights Reserved.

[ Back ]

© 2004-2024 by WEBCommentary(tm), All Rights Reserved