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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

FEMA’s Fake Press Conference–Even the White House Condemned

This would be funny if it weren’t so stupid. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, better known as FEMA, apparently didn’t want to take the chance of facing hard questions about the California fires as they did when they completely messed up the response to Katrina two years ago.

So, the Washington Post reports, the agency set up a press conference with just 15 minutes notice, and invited reporters to listen in by phone (but NOT to ask questions).

Turns out the people asking questions were on staff at FEMA–no wonder they were such soft questions! Did they actually think no one would notice?

Democracy Now reports that even White House Press Secretary Dana Perino, who shills without apparent shame for the Iraq war, for various repressions of domestic civil liberties, and for the Bush Administrations continued defense of megacorporate interests against ordinary folks, couldn’t stomach this one:

REPORTER: On Tuesday, FEMA’s deputy administrator held what was called a news briefing to talk about the California wildfires. And from what we understand, the questions were posed not by reporters, but by staffers, and that distinction was not made known. Is that appropriate?

DANA PERINO: It is not. It is not a practice that we would employ here at the White House or that we — we certainly don’t condone it. We didn’t know about it beforehand. FEMA has issued an apology, saying that they had an error in judgment when they were attempting to try to get out a lot of information to reporters, who were asking for answers to a variety of questions in regards to the wildfires in California. It’s not something I would have condoned, and they, I’m sure, will not do it again.

Oh yes, and DN also notes that these people can’t claim ignorance. They’re a very media-savvy bunch:

DIANE FARSETTA: Right. Well, there were four staff people with FEMA who all had roles in dealing with the media. So I think it’s important to point out that these are not people who are not used to these type of situations. These are people who work at a federal agency that deals with emergency situations, and they work specifically with press. One of them, John Philbin, who’s — or who was, until last week, FEMA’s director of external affairs, he had a quarter-century career so far working in government with media, specifically working on crisis communication — marketing communications, brand management are his areas of expertise, and I think that’s what we really saw was brand management. They couldn’t have known — or they couldn’t not have known that this would reflect very poorly on FEMA if the word got out. And they basically seem to have been assuming that the word would not get out about what they were doing.

And to top it off, Philbin actually got a promotion. I couldn’t make this stuff up.

You’ve just got to wonder what on earth these people were thinking!


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