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'Brownie' critiques news coverage of Haiti quake

By Ed O'Keefe

Michael D. Brown, the Katrina-era head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, panned news reports critical of the pace of response and recovery to last week's Haitian earthquake, urging patience as officials safely deploy teams across the country and arguing that journalists should consider assisting those recovery efforts instead of reporting on the damage.

Michael D. Brown
Former FEMA Administrator Michael D. Brown

"My frustration watching this, is listening to, even my friends in the news media who are expressing their frustration that, you know, they have been to a pocket in a little village somewhere and there's not aid there yet," Brown said Tuesday on Federal News Radio. "Well that shows a woeful ignorance of how things work."

Brown elaborated on his frustration:

In this case, because you never want the disaster workers, the response workers themselves become victims, you have to make certain of several things. One, that they can get to where they need to go. And in this case, the airport at Port-au-Prince, we had to make certain that not only was the airport operable, but that the runways were safe to land on. And then once you find that, you have to make certain that there's a place for your equipment to be deployed....
And so while I know people are frustrated when they see those pictures of, when a cameraman will stick his camera in the face of somebody and they're screaming and hollering and crying, they're desperate for food and water. You know, I want to say to that cameraman, put your camera down. Take that canteen of water you have with you and your crew and give it to them. Because it's not fair to compare that to the work that the rescue workers are doing.

Brown's comments revive a debate reporters often face when deployed into disaster situations. Media ethicists have suggested this week that the television network's medical correspondents -- most of whom also serve as active doctors -- should forgo providing fact-based reporting while helping the quake's victims.

Brown also compared the Haitian earthquake response to FEMA's response following Hurricane Katrina:

Look, in Katrina, I had a state and local government that was there. It was somewhat dysfunctional mainly, but at least they were there. In Haiti, you have no government. I mean you have no infrastructure... so our teams had to move in to an area where there was literally nobody in charge, and you had to take charge, do it diplomatically because this isn't New Orleans. This is a foreign country. And in this case we had to be very careful about how we do it and I think they did it exceptionally well.

Brown faced criticism for his leadership of FEMA in the days after Hurricane Katrina. He earned the nickname "Brownie" after President George W. Bush credited him with doing a "heckuva job," despite news reports and eyewitness accounts that suggested otherwise.

Brown called into Federal News Radio to plug the Next of Kin Registry, a nonprofit national depository for contact information during an emergency situation. He serves as the group's CEO.

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below

By Ed O'Keefe  | January 19, 2010; 1:34 PM ET
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Oh, for goodness sakes, "Heck of a job Brownie" has no credibility at all. I don't think it's unreasonable to expect some food, some water, and some medical help to be in the streets within 3-4 days when the planes were already landing one day after the quake with choppers flying overhead by Friday. What did they do with all the stuff they were unloading? If reporters can get to the people downtown within a mile or less from the airport, why can't relief? People are still dying of thirst, hunger, and injuries, including young children, while the powers to be at the airport keep re-arranging the deck chairs and the majority of supplies pile up there. People sitting in tents right across the street from the presidential palace say they haven't seen a doctor, gotten food or water. Where is it? Yes, it's an island with a broken port and airport but if L.A. ever has the Big One and the port at Long Beach, LAX and Burbank's airport's get totaled, the highways destroyed, rubble everywhere, is this the type of response Americans can expect to get? What if Houston gets totaled in a Category 5 hurricane? What's happening in Haiti is a blue print of what could happen here. Americans should be very concerned. And anyone would be looting if they had had nothing to eat or drink after even 4 days must less 8 days!

Posted by: LRS-Chicago | January 20, 2010 5:46 AM | Report abuse

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