50,000 Watts of Hate: KOA ignores ex-FEMA chief’s role in Katrina debacle

Some things you just can’t live down. When 1,836 people die, 700 still remain missing, millions more are displaced from their homes, the nation suffers billions in property damage and recovery efforts lag years later, that albatross should be tightly wound around one’s neck for a long, long time.

Unless, of course, you’re being interviewed by the crack Colorado Morning News crew on Newsradio 850 KOA.

Disgraced former Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Director Michael Brown went on the air Thursday to chat about his own family’s “ironic” evacuation from raging wildfires north of Boulder. In an unbelievable (and undeserved) display of deference to Brown, neither co-anchor Steffan Tubbs or April Zesbaugh raised even a hint that his incompetent response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster resulted in him being run out of Washington, D.C., on a rail.

Colorado Media Matters is on the case:

TUBBS: The guy, one of the people that actually had to get out, used to be in charge of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and he is Michael Brown, and he joins us on the 850 KOA news line. Mike, good morning.

BROWN: Good morning, April and Steffan. How are you?

TUBBS: Good, more importantly how are you doin’? We were just talkin’ on the air about how we were kind of kibitzing with you, just kind of shooting the breeze yesterday morning and then, boy, did your day change; what happened?

BROWN: Well, we were shooting the breeze, I got back home to Boulder. The winds were just whipping up 60-80 miles an hour. I was working in my home office. The dogs start barking, and lo and behold, there’s a Boulder County Undersheriff in the driveway with lights flashing, said there’s a mandatory evacuation.

ZESBAUGH: So there was a mandatory evacuation for your area. You’re in Left Hand Canyon, we should let people know. And where are you this morning, and what are you hearing about when you can get back in your home?

BROWN: Well, we haven’t heard anything. We’re over in Longmont. We have a friend who has an apartment over here in an apartment complex — has a corporate apartment. So [my wife] and I — I’m on the couch, she’s on the bed, and the three dogs are layin’ around the room.

TUBBS: Do you find this ironic? I mean, you know, you’re in the Bush administration, you’re heading up FEMA, and I don’t know if in your lifetime you’ve ever been on the other side. But how does it feel?

BROWN: Well, you know, growing up I was often in torna — I grew up in Tornado Alley. But it was strange, you know, being told to evacuate, because, you know, I firmly believe in evacuation, so when they told me that, you know, I just loaded the dogs up, grabbed my briefcase, and headed down the mountain.

And it was interesting, because they said there was a fire. You know, I couldn’t smell smoke or see it, because the Chinooks [winds] were just pushing the smoke due east. And so I couldn’t see the fire until I got down to Highway 36. And when I saw it. I was just astonished at how large it was, so I sat and watched it for about two hours. And it’s, you know, and then I heard that FEMA’s approved a fire management assistance grant. And I was just chuckling to myself, ’cause I used to get calls, you know, at 2, 3, 4 in the morning all the time for these grants all over the country. And here I am on the other side of the fence now.

ZESBAUGH: FEMA paying 75% at least of the suppression costs for this fire, so that’s good news for those people who are in it. Tell us a little bit more about what you’re hearing about your home and your neighborhood, specifically. Are there any neighbors that have gotten a bird’s-eye view, or anybody that knows the condition of your neighborhood?

BROWN: Well, I could see, I kept the binoculars and looked and I could see, and the neighborhood looks fine. It started up the ridge toward the neighborhood, and they were able to start backfires to keep it from spreading into the neighborhood. So I feel very good. The firefighters — look, you know, I’ve always been a firm supporter of these men and women, and they just do a tremendous job.

And in this case the Boulder County Sheriff’s office did a great job of doing the, not only reverse 911, but going from house to house and marking the houses and getting us out. So the Boulder County Sheriff’s office, the fire departments from, all the way from Lafayette and Longmont and Jamestown, everywhere, just, you know, came in. At one point they had 300 firefighters working this fire. So they’ve just done a great job, and we’re just, we should be thankful.

TUBBS: Yeah, I know so many people in Boulder County agree with you, Mike. Always good to talk to you. We hope that you can get some rest, and good luck to you and your wife and the dogs, and hopefully you can give us an update and let us know when you’re back.

BROWN: All right, will do. Take care.

TUBBS: All right. You bet. Former FEMA Director Michael Brown and part-time talk-show host here on 850 KOA. Michael Brown joining us on the 850 KOA news line.

Shortly after the hurricane ravaged the Gulf Coast, media outlets across the nation chronicled a series of email from the then-FEMA director making flippant remarks about the Katrina rescue process and begging to leave New Orleans.

According to The Washington Post, Brown currently operates a disaster consulting business. Now, that’s ironic.

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Wendy Norris

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