This is a partial transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," September 12, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.
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BILL O'REILLY, HOST: In "The Factor" investigation segment tonight: There's all kinds of b.s. floating around about the hurricane. And of course, we want to cut through that fog.
The two big issues, the two things that could have saved lives are the levee system that keeps water of New Orleans, which was breached, and the evacuation of the elderly and poor before the storm, which didn't happen.
Joining us now from Phoenix to separate fact from fiction is Robert Middlestaedt, the dean of the business school at Arizona State University and author of the book, "Will Your Next Mistake Be Fatal?" And there were obviously fatal mistakes made in the flood. The dean grew up in New Orleans and has a degree in mechanical engineering from Tulane.
All right, Dean, let's start with the levees. You know, there's all kinds of accusations, most politically oriented, that the Bush administration didn't do enough to shore those levees up, they cut the funding. What's the truth?
ROBERT MITTELSTAEDT, AUTHOR, "WILL YOUR NEXT MISTAKE BE FATAL?": Well, Bill, the truth about the levees is interesting in that the problem started after the 1927 flood. And ever since then, everyone has known that New Orleans could flood easily and deeply.
And compromises have been made for decades about the levees. I think part of the problem in New Orleans is that you go all the way back to Huey Long (search) and an attitude that corporations should pay taxes, people shouldn't. And the city and the state is a place that has made compromises on investment and infrastructure in many, many ways.
So yes, you can easily blame lack of federal money and a plan that was made and not followed and warnings that were there and not taken seriously, but this is a series of mistakes that took a very long time to build.
O'REILLY: All right, so even when you were growing up in the Crescent City (search), people were aware that the levee system in place was not going to hold back a four or five storm. That catastrophe was just a storm away.
Yet after administration, after administration, after administration, both federally and in the state of Louisiana, they basically said, we're just not going to invest the money to make sure the levees hold. Is that the truth?
MITTELSTAEDT: Well, I think that strangely, growing up as a kid, everybody worried about the Mississippi River and focused on that. And you have the Bonicarie Spillway there, which is designed to dump water from the river to the Spillway if that was the problem.
And the lake was just never taken as seriously for -- and the sophistication that we have today in terms of tracking and understanding storms and what they can do was not that way until the last 10 to 20 years, certainly.
So I think that the worry was perhaps placed in the wrong place. And the levees on the Mississippi were reinforced and maintained very well by the [Army] Corp of Engineers, but the lake levees, there was just never had as much attention paid there.
O'REILLY: OK. But is there -- is it fair to assign blame to politicians here because of the breach? Is that fair, in your opinion?
MITTELSTAEDT: It's absolutely fair. It's fair because what you want government to do is to protect you from the worst things in life that you have no ability as an individual or as a society to control. And...
O'REILLY: OK, so the governments from the 1920's on were not proactive enough in protecting the people of New Orleans, that's what you're saying?
MITTELSTAEDT: Whether federal, or state, or in combination.
O'REILLY: I got it.
Now old people, sick people were not evacuated before the storm. The buses, a famous shot, and we have it, of the buses sitting in the water. The mayor can't explain why they were sitting in the water. People in nursing homes, whatever they were, why did that happen?
MITTELSTAEDT: Well, it happens because for two or three different reasons. First of all, we've heard the governor and the mayor say that they had a plan, but if they had a plan, why didn't they execute it? Because the plan supposedly called for this kind of thing.
Secondly, a failure on the part -- failure of leadership -- both on the part of the governor and the mayor to realize how serious this was and get on it immediately instead of waiting.
The rumor, I don't know if this is true or not, that Mayor Nagin didn't like using school buses, wanted more comfortable buses, you know there's a time when leaders just step up and say this is a crisis. This is a problem. We're going to use whatever we have available.
In contrast, the poor and the sick -- my own 81-year-old mother and my 108-year-old great aunt elected to stay in the city against my advice and eventually emerged to nursing homes. Got the people together. And the administrators hired a bus from 300 miles away to drive into New Orleans and extract them.
O'REILLY: And that was after the storm hit?
MITTELSTAEDT: That was on Wednesday.
O'REILLY: So that was three days after the storm hit.
MITTELSTAEDT: It was three days afterwards, but it was before most of the people got out of the Superdome.
MITTELSTAEDT: In fact, they got out on their bus before the city was able to evacuate.
O'REILLY: OK, but I -- you know.
MITTELSTAEDT: So Individuals with...
O'REILLY: I don't understand Mayor Nagin. I can't get a straight answer. And he's been on the Sunday shows. And I just can't get a straight answer.
He had the buses. All right, the buses sat there. And then the buses got, you know, flooded, but plenty of buses to get these people out, they never rolled.
MITTELSTAEDT: I agree with you.
O'REILLY: Did you hear any reason why they didn't -- this guy has done 150 interviews. And I still don't note answer to that. Go.
MITTELSTAEDT: I agree with you, Bill. I don't know the answer either.
Here's the only thing I can surmise. And that is that they put people in the Superdome. They expected that they were going to keep them there a while and be able to let them back into the city, and that the water was not going to come as high or stay as long as it did.
O'REILLY: Right. I'm sure that's what they expected, but you always do a worst-case scenario just like your book, right?
O'REILLY: If you don't do a worst-case scenario, you're going to get whacked. All right, Dean, we appreciate it. We've got to run. And I just think that's -- you hit it. I mean, they didn't think it was going to be that bad. And bang, there they are. The buses are under water.
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