Three years to the weekend of Hurricane Katrina’s 2005 landfall, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin ordered another complete evacuation, this time in the wake of Hurricane Gustav. All the papers lead with the approaching “mother of all storms,” as the mayor characterized it Saturday. The New York Times notes Nagin’s slightly overdramatic order, wondering if he “may have been exaggerating in order to shock jaded residents into taking prudent steps.” The lede of the Washington Post’s story focuses on the storm’s increasing direness, reporting that Gustav has “swelled from an already deadly tropical storm into a monster depression with winds of more than 150 mph.” The Los Angeles Timesis the only paper to serve up Nagin’s more colorful admonition. “You need to be getting your butts moving out of New Orleans now,” he told his population last night.
The preponderance of the New Orleans residents quoted in all three papers aren’t waiting to see if Gustav is the next Katrina—they’d “rather play it safe than sorry, because we know what sorry feels like,” as one told the NYT. New Orleans has established 17 collection points across the city from which residents will be bused to the central Union Passenger terminal, and from there “to cities in north Louisiana and to Memphis,” the NYT reports. According to the WP, Mayor Nagin said that 50 percent of the city had been evacuated by Saturday evening, and all lanes of traffic on major highways will be directed away from the city by Sunday morning. The National Hurricane Center, the LAT reports, calls Gustav “extremely dangerous,” though no one is exactly sure how much New Orleans will be affected.
The papers all focus on Gustav’s impact on the Republican National Convention, which is slated for this week. In a separate front-page story, the Post reports that Republican officials are “worried that televised images of a lavish celebration would provide a jarring contrast to scenes of disaster and mass evacuations.” Republican governors of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas have cancelled their plans to attend the convention, and President Bush is considering canceling his Monday evening speech. Party officials are monitoring the storm closely in case the convention’s schedule or message needs to be altered, the WP reports.
Elsewhere on the front pages, it’s Day 3 of press domination for John McCain’s new running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. In the WP Style section, media columnist Howard Kurtz marvels at the way McCain “hijacked the media spotlight.” Judging by today’s front-page coverage, he’s right to do so.
An A1 NYT story watches the campaigns “shift” as McCain’s pick—a surprise to “everyone but his inner circle”—substantially alters the race. The Obama campaign had only prepared to attack both Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty, whom they considered McCain’s most likely choices, and is hastily strategizing on how best to deal with Palin, a 44-year-old mother of five. Rather than attack her directly, Obama is “planning to increase its attacks on Mr. McCain for his opposition to pay equity legislation and abortion rights—two issues of paramount concern to many women.”
A front-page WP story digs into McCain’s selection process, revealing that Palin made an early strong impression in February 2007, when she and McCain first met at the National Governors Association meeting in Washington. McCain reportedly found her “directness and knowledge” impressive, and, according to one adviser, ” looked at her like a kindred spirit … Someone who wasn’t afraid to take tough positions.”
A second A1 piece in the WP investigates the family conflict that is rumored to possibly threaten Palin’s candidacy—a charge that she abused her power as governor to have her brother-in-law removed from Alaska’s police force. The few salacious details from the story reveal that Palin’s brother-in-law was an abusive “bully,” who physically threatened members of Palin’s family and otherwise disgraced his position as a law enforcement officer. Proof has thus far not been found to suggest Palin acted inappropriately, but a report from the Alaska legislature, due in October, could possibly reveal damning information.
A sprawling front-page profile in the LAT contains some of the sharpest criticism of Palin in the papers today—former political associates and opponents say she “piggybacks” on Democrats’ successes in the Alaska legislature, ignores the “unglamorous” side of government, focuses too much on oil and gas, and is, in general, “a policy lightweight.” The piece also notes her personal similarities with John McCain, including her willingness to work across the party aisle.
Yet another front-page Sarah Palin article in the NYT is a bit of a nonstory: It collects quotes from a handful of female voters and concludes that Republican women are excited about the energy Palin adds to their ticket while former supporters of Hillary Clinton cannot accept her strong stance against abortion and her support for the war in Iraq. Much more interesting is a story you’ll find deeper in the Times’ A section on Alaskans squinting in the sudden media spotlight that has been cast their state. “There is a sense among many Alaskans that the rest of the country might wind up not understanding their state, or worse—discovering how beautiful Alaska is and moving here,” the piece reports.
And just in case you need a break from the Palin coverage, try the NYT’s amusing report from St. Paul, Minn., where residents are miffed that their city, the actual location of this week’s Republican National Convention, isn’t getting top billing. The convention is being promoted as “Minneapolis-St. Paul,” even though the smaller of the Twin Cities is doing the hosting and thinks it’s a better place anyway. Says one resident, St. Paul’s 73-year old poet laureate: “The convention is in St. Paul … I think it’s dopey to say anything else, just dopey.”