Remember that story Bobby Jindal told in his big speech Tuesday night — about how during Katrina, he stood shoulder-to-shoulder with a local sheriff who was battling government red tape to try to rescue stranded victims?
Turns out it wasn’t actually, you know, true.
In the last few days, first Daily Kos, and then TPMmuckraker, raised serious questions about the story, based in part on the fact that no news reports we could find place Jindal in the affected area at the specific time at issue.
Jindal had described being in the office of Sheriff Harry Lee “during Katrina,” and hearing him yelling into the phone at a government bureaucrat who was refusing to let him send volunteer boats out to rescue stranded storm victims, because they didn’t have the necessary permits. Jindal said he told Lee, “that’s ridiculous,” prompting Lee to tell the bureaucrat that the rescue effort would go ahead and he or she could arrest both Lee and Jindal.
But now, a Jindal spokeswoman has admitted to Politico that in reality, Jindal overheard Lee talking about the episode to someone else by phone “days later.” The spokeswoman said she thought Lee, who died in 2007, was being interviewed about the incident at the time.
This is no minor difference. Jindal’s presence in Lee’s office during the crisis itself was a key element of the story’s intended appeal, putting him at the center of the action during the maelstrom. Just as important, Jindal implied that his support for the sheriff helped ensure the rescue went ahead. But it turns out Jindal wasn’t there at the key moment, and played no role in making the rescue happen.
There’s a larger point here, though. The central anecdote of the GOP’s prime-time response to President Obama’s speech, intended to illustrate the threat of excessive government regulation, turns out to have been made up.
Maybe it’s time to rethink the premise.
Late Update: Politico’s Ben Smith has updated his post with the following:
UPDATE: I’d initially misunderstood Sellers to be saying Jindal and Lee didn’t meet while rescue efforts were still underway. In fact, she said, the conversation took place in the aftermath of the storm, but after the boat incident.
“Bobby and I walked into harry lee’s office - he’s yelling on the phone about a decision he’s already made,” Jindal chief of staff Timmy Teepell recalled. “He’s saying this is a decision I made, and if you don’t like it you can come and arrest me.”
Teepell said the exchange took place in the week following Katrina, when Jindal visited Jefferson Parish multiple times.
“He was boots on the ground all the time,” he said.
This doesn’t seem to bear on the key question. As we said, the key elements of Jindal’s story were that he was in Lee’s office during the crisis itself, and that his support for the sheriff helped ensure the rescue went ahead. Neither of those things was true, it now seems.
Late Video Update: Here’s the relevant section of Jindal’s speech.
Late Late Update: Hilariously, Jindal’s office keeps going back to Politico to try to straighten out its story, but it’s only digging itself in deeper.