Michael Brown, aka "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job" of Hurricane Katrina fame, says he's not trying to even the score with his critics in Deadly Indifference, The Perfect (Political) Storm. "I just wanted to get it off my chest," he says of his new book on the August 2005 killer storm, which occurred while he headed the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Well, don't tell that to former President George W. Bush (whom he describes as a frat boy who scapegoated him), former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (both dubbed political grandstanders), Jesse Jackson (craved attention), or New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin (too slow to act). Brown slaps himself around, too, for being politically timid and unready for the press onslaught.
Then there's the media, which came down on him like a ton of bricks during the crisis. "I get particularly disappointed in Brian [Williams of NBC] because I always thought Brian had stronger kind of Midwest values and was a little more objective in that sense," says Brown, now a consultant and radio host. And don't get him started on Time magazine, which he says wrote an unfair profile that distorted his résumé and eventually led him to quit. "They assassinated me," he writes. [Read Brown: 'fratboy' Bush 'didn't get' Katrina.]
Overall, he says, TV provided little perspective and incomplete stories just to make headlines and impress the bosses back home. "They did not/do not care, of course," he writes. "Today's disaster becomes yesterday's old news."
Now on a book tour, Brown uses Deadly Indifference to urge audiences to stop ignoring the potential for disaster and get prepared. "No matter how much we talk about this stuff," he says, "we still don't realize that the government can't save our butts."
For groups he speaks to, Brown's saga offers a warning that life can go topsy-turvy in a flash. Just a year before Brown was forced out, for example, Bush political adviser Karl Rove was crediting him for Bush's re-election, thanks to his expert handling of back-to-back hurricanes in Florida in 2004. "It was the most surreal experience of my entire life," he says. "I was at the pinnacle of politics... and the next thing I know, I'm walking in the valley of death."
Illustration by Ed Wexler for USN&WR.