I’m almost embarrassed to admit it, but I find myself wondering if Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard’s story about the dying mother was truthful. That is, I know that many thousands of people (probably many tens of thousands, though official estimates have not climbed that high as of this point) have died in the disaster, and if his story isn’t specifically true, it’s certainly well-demonstrated that the relief operation has seen widespread bungling and delays, and that many, many people’s mothers must have died as a result.
But as I watch Broussard’s performance on Meet the Press, I find myself wondering if what I’m seeing is a performance, in the sense of being good old-fashioned snake-oil politics. I mean, was his tearful story scrupulously accurate? Or was it maybe based on a true story, but embellished for effect? Or was it an out-and-out fiction? I confess that when I first viewed it I was moved to tears; his sudden anguish, the raised pitch of his voice, the repeated promises to the stricken mother (“Yeah, Momma, somebody’s coming to get you. Somebody’s coming to get you on Tuesday. Somebody’s coming to get you on Wednesday…”) It’s very powerful stuff. Even with my current doubts, I still get misty-eyed watching it.
But I can’t help wondering. Watching the whole interview, if one assumes that Broussard was telling a carefully crafted story designed to elicit emotion and control the course of the interview, it was a masterful job. He basically took over Russert’s program and made the segment into a powerful symbol of FEMA ineptitude. The pacing of what he talked about seemed well-designed to build to that heart-wrenching climax. And the story itself is somewhat lacking in detail; no specific name of the “guy who runs this building I’m in, Emergency Management, he’s responsible for everything.” There is a mention of the “St. Bernard nursing home” (is that a town? or a specific institution?), but again, it seems like it might be tough to actually verify what he said as truthful, based on the information given.
In the larger sense, it doesn’t really matter. I’m not trying to say that the story, if fictional, in any way lessens the very real human suffering that has taken place. And again, I have absolutely no evidence that the story is fake. But I confess to being curious about the extent to which my emotions in watching that segment were being consciously manipulated for political effect, and if they were, the extent to which the underlying story was accurate or invented. And if it turned out that Broussard actually was lying when he told that story, it would tend to undercut the credibility of the remarks he made earlier in the interview about the problems he witnessed with the FEMA response.
Anyway, if anyone has any information on Broussard’s background and track-record in terms of honesty, or on the specifics of this particular story, I’d be interested in seeing it. Thanks.