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Feds, Warnings and Videotape

This week's bad news for President Bush – these days it seems that a week doesn't go by without some bad news for the president – is that the Associated Press has obtained a video of federal disaster officials warning Bush about the potentially disastrous impact of Hurricane Katrina before the storm hit the gulf coast. (Video here.) As liberal bloggers have been gleefully pointing out, the video contradicts Bush's claim that he didn't "think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees" in New Orleans. (Conservatives, meanwhile, argue this is no big deal, since Bush was told the levees could be "topped," not breached.)

According to Editor and Publisher, questions are now being raised about how the AP got the video. The New York Times account includes this section:

While transcripts of other videoconferences before and after the storm hit were provided to Congressional investigators months ago, the Aug. 29 video and transcript could not be found by FEMA officials. Employees at a regional FEMA office in Atlanta found a tape a few days ago, and a transcript was delivered to Capitol Hill on Tuesday, officials said.
The only real speculation I've come across as to the identity of the person who leaked the tape is that may well have been embattled former FEMA director Michael Brown, who appears on the tape voicing concerns and comes out of this looking relatively good. "I'm glad it's coming out because despite the media reports and the general perception that I was a dummy that didn't know what I was doing, I knew exactly what I was doing," he told WUSA. Still, there is no evidence tying Brown to the leak.

Why does the leaker matter? Because these sorts of leaks can have a significant political impact, and the agenda of the person behind them is thus an important part of the story. Of course, one can't expect the press to divulge the identity of someone who gives them sensitive information, since doing so would discourage future leaks, which can be essential in getting important information out to the public. But the impulses behind a leak can occasionally be more telling than the leak itself. Just as it's a mistake to demand to know the identity of every leaker and anonymous source, it's unwise to go too far in the other direction and ignore what's happening behind the scenes.

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