George W. Bush calls Katrina photo a ‘huge mistake’

Michael Calderone
Media Reporter
The Upshot
Bush regrets Katrina photo

Former President George W. Bush says it was a "huge mistake" to let himself be photographed looking from Air Force One down at the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Bush reflected on the iconic photograph during an interview with NBC's Matt Lauer to promote his forthcoming memoir, "Decision Points." The photo was published widely and only reinforced the view that the Bush administration didn't act quickly enough or fully grasp the severity of the problems on the ground in New Orleans after the levees broke.

"Let's get to the picture that we may have seen more of you in the last couple years of your presidency than any other picture," Lauer said. "You're sitting in Air Force One, flying back toward Washington. You fly right over New Orleans and you look out the window."

"Yes," Bush responded. "Huge mistake."

The full Lauer interview airs 8 p.m. Monday night, with Bush's book hitting shelves the following day. But NBC released the following excerpt Friday:

LAUER: Yeah. And in comes the press and they take that picture. And it made you look so out of touch.

BUSH: Detached and uncaring. No question about it.

LAUER: Whose fault was it?

BUSH: It's always my fault. I mean I was the one who should have said, A, don't take my picture, B, let's land in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, C, let's don't even come close to the area. Let's -- the next place to be seen is in Washington at a command center. I mean, it was my fault.

LAUER: When the picture's released you write, "I immediately knew it was a problem."

BUSH: Of course. I'd been around long enough to know that when it was released. And the reason why we didn't land in Louisiana is because I was concerned that first responders would be pulled off their task and I'd be criticized. In retrospect,  however, I should have touched down in Baton Rouge, met with the governor and walked out and said, "I hear you. We understand. And we're going to help the state and help the local governments with as much resources as needed." And then got back on a flight up to Washington. I did not do that. And paid a price for it.

[Then and now photos: New Orleans, five years later]

It's likely that most of the revelations in Bush's book will be covered before the title becomes available in stores.

The New York Times already snagged a copy of the book and revealed Tuesday that Bush once considered replacing Vice President Dick Cheney before running for re-election in 2004. Also, NBC released a previous excerpt in which Bush said that rapper Kanye West's criticism of him after Katrina—that he "doesn't care about black people"—was "one of the most disgusting moments of my presidency."

(Photo of Bush overlooking New Orleans on Aug. 31, 2005: AP/Susan Walsh)

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