Brian Williams on The Daily Show: ‘The Rules in New Orleans are as Good as the Last Person Who Made Them.’

Aug - Sept 05 160.jpg Last night Jon had the guest of guests – Brian Williams of NBC Nightly News, whose combination of reportage from the Superdome and frank blogging made him one of the standouts of the Katrina nightmare. Funnily enough he looks tanned and healthy, as though he just came back from vacation. Hardly.

After telling Jon “I like what you’ve done with the place” they got striaght into the interview, which was gripping. Williams obviously has a crazy story to tell and he told it honestly and straightforwardly with little grandstanding or “Voice of God”-ness. Riveting. I’m sure C&L will have it soon (or if you’re in NYC come on over, I DVR’d it. BYODC).

Williams said that he was there, then came back up here, then was compelled to go back down again after two days. “It’s very difficult to leave, I feel a bond, a connection to this story,” he said (in a sentiment reminiscent of Anderson Cooper). I was in the Superdome, with all those people,” he said. He was in the Superdome when the storm hit, and he describes watching the roof suddenly come apart under Katrina. “In the morning they closed the huge steel doors at the players and equipment entrance of the Superdome, and we watched that roof just slowly start to come apart.” Wow, said Jon. What was it like inside? Did you think you were goners? “Well, they said it was built to 200 miles per hour. Everyone in New Orleans was told it’s safe, it’s the shelter of last resort. If you don’t have another option, if you don’t have a car we’ll fill the Superdome, we had 10,000 of us in there. And then we started watching those roof panels and it was making a terrible noise…there was rain coming in all over the roof.”

Jon wants to know if there was confidence in the authorities, or if there was a sense of the impending tragedy. Brian wasn’t impressed with the authorities; he remembers leaving at 6:30pm after the storm to do the Nightly News and surveying the skyline: “We knew it had taken a big hit.” Meanwhile, back inside the Superdome no one had been told anything: when they could leave, what the conditions were outside, whether they’d have anything to eat (in other words, they knew about as much as Michael Brown). Also, he brings up the NOAA weather advisory from August 28th that foretold near-Armageddon damage (I’ve got it after the jump; salvaged it from my email). Williams said they all got it on their Blackberries on Sunday afternoon and weren’t sure it was real; of course, it was.

So, Jon asks, when did Williams realize that the federal response was a total fucking gongshow? “It was Thursday night, live on NBC nightly news. My guest was Michael Brown, head of FEMA. And I said, why no airlift?” Williams has been in Iraq, he knows what can be done with a Chinook or a Blackhawk. “I said, ‘Why can’t you drop pallets of MREs (Ed. – “Meals Ready to Eat”) and water to those people, they’re starving, down in the Convention Center.’ He said “That’s a good question.'” Dude found out about it on the air. “And then apparently Ted Koppel picked it up and had at him like a pinata later that night.” The audience is glad for an excuse to laugh, and clap. This is riveting stuff.

Jon says it was the first time he ever saw the media look around and say, “wait a minute: the disparity between what I’m seeing on the ground and what I’m hearing from public officials is so vast, that –” Williams: “We couldn’t help but (Jon: “Express bewilderment!” as Williams nods:) …and show our surprise on the air and go after these public officials. This is, after all, what we do at the end of the day” (insert your own press-regains-its-backbone commentary here).