06/03/2006 01:13 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Corps Report: Was Lack of Media Strategy the Strategy?

Now that the national media have taken due (let's be honest, past-due) account of the Army Corps of Engineers' culpability for the flooding in New Orleans, it's worth thinking about the media strategy, or lack thereof, behind the release of the Corps' report on Thursday.

The Bush administration didn't invent media strategies for burying bad news; the Clinton administration had it down to an art. You pre-release pieces of the information in a slow run-up to the actual release, then, when the story hits, the press operation downplays it as "old news." The current regime has refined the game, making a specialty of bottling up unflattering news stories until late Friday afternoons, so they're covered on Saturday, the least-read and least-watched news day of the week.

The Corps followed none of these familiar strategies in the release of its report. As a matter of fact, the pre-release, in effect, was the issuance of the much sterner report by the team at UC Berkeley, a week and a half earlier, which seemed to garner the "old news" treatment itself -- p. 19 in the NYT, for example. (The Corps report, by contrast, hit page one, the confession being apparently more newsworthy than the indictment) And the timing of the report's release, mid-day Thursday, insured a much bigger splash for the story than it might have gotten thirty-six hours later.

What can we conclude from this apparent non-strategy? Some possibilities: the Corps really is as insulated from the media and political operations of an administration as it has historically been from outside criticism; the media strategists may have been fooled, by the months of non-coverage of the allegations against the Corps, into thinking that this had officially become a non-story; or, truly contrite public servants, abashed at their own culpability for so much loss and suffering, wanted their self-criticism to be as painfully public as possible.

If you picked the latter scenario, the widow of Gen. Abacha has some money she wants to get out of Nigeria, and she needs your help.