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Evan ThomasThomas ’77 Debriefs C’ville on Katrina

Evan Thomas ’77, assistant managing editor of Newsweek magazine and a journalist with extensive experience covering American politics and current events, appeared at the University’s Miller Center of Public Affairs to present his Washington Report on September 19.

The report consisted of his analysis of the nation’s political reaction to Hurricane Katrina, drawing from his article, “How Bush Blew It,” detailing the federal government’s response to the hurricane disaster.

Thomas established a political timeline of actions taken after Katrina, outlining the government’s immediate response and mistakes. Thomas pointed out how the Bush and the Louisiana administrations’ severe underestimation of Katrina’s potential damage yielded a slow response time, particularly from the federal government. Bush was informed of the unfolding drama in New Orleans through a variety of news broadcasters who Thomas claims were more informed of the situation than the president himself.

Thomas faced questions about the lack of authority illustrated by the federal government. When asked of the action taken by Homeland Security, Thomas suggested a problem of communication between President Bush and Michael Chertoff, Secretary of Homeland Security, especially Chertoff’s failure to inform Bush of the conditions of New Orleans. Thomas said that the Bush administration’s emphasis on combating terrorism appears to have affected Homeland Security’s ability to plan for natural disasters.

Thomas later called the political efforts surrounding Katrina “a dramatic failure” and an “ugly wake-up call for how badly prepared for emergencies we are.” As a result, he believes the government’s increased sensitivity will produce more effective and efficient responses to similar devastating circumstances in the future. Nevertheless, he argues that politics are often too involved with such value battles as gay marriage, when the focus should turn to the government’s capability to ensure national security.

Thomas has written more than 100 cover stories for Newsweek on the American war on terror, politics, and popular culture, and he is currently working to complete his fifth published book.

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