Friday, October 26, 2007

FEMA's faux press conference

UPDATED, WITH VIDEO [Via ThinkProgress]

This gives a whole new meaning to the expression "Faux News."



The Bush administration has taken news manipulation to a new low. The Washington Post's Al Kamen reveals that the "reporters" who lobbed softball questions at FEMA Deputy Administrator Harvey Johnson on Thursday Tuesday were, in fact, employees of FEMA.


The first questions were about the "commodities" being shipped to Southern California and how officials are dealing with people who refuse to evacuate. He responded eloquently.

He was apparently quite familiar with the reporters -- in one case, he appears to say "Mike" and points to a reporter -- and was asked an oddly in-house question about "what it means to have an emergency declaration as opposed to a major disaster declaration" signed by the president. He once again explained smoothly.

[...]


"Are you happy with FEMA's response so far?" a reporter asked. Another asked about "lessons learned from Katrina."

"I'm very happy with FEMA's response so far," Johnson said, hailing "a very smoothly, very efficiently performing team."

[...]

But something didn't seem right. The reporters were lobbing too many softballs. No one asked about trailers with formaldehyde for those made homeless by the fires. And the media seemed to be giving Johnson all day to wax on and on about FEMA's greatness.

Of course, that could be because the questions were asked by FEMA staffers playing reporters. We're told the questions were asked by Cindy Taylor, FEMA's deputy director of external affairs, and by "Mike" Widomski, the deputy director of public affairs. Director of External Affairs John "Pat" Philbin asked a question, and another came, we understand, from someone who sounds like press aide Ali Kirin.
One of the faux reporters, Mike Widomski, defended the propaganda pageant, insisting that the FEMA staffers were simply asking the same questions that real reporters had been asking all day.

The Fox "News" Channel model of news manipulation actually seems rather quaint compared to this. Stalin would be proud.

UPDATE

The story is spreading like... well, you know.

The Associated Press:

"One way to get decent coverage in this rough-and-tumble city is to arrange to have your own employees interrogate you at your news conference.
That would seem to be the strategy of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, much maligned for its sluggish response to Hurricane Katrina over two years ago."

E&P:

"It appears the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has found the answer to nosey reporters in the two years since Hurricane Katrina: have a press conference and have your own people ask the questions."

Wonkette:

"Neat trick! Next time, though, you might want to ring up Jeff Gannon. He’s cheap! And that will free up the staff to concentrate on more important duties, like going on Starbucks runs and arranging dramatically backlit photo-ops."

Rolling Stone:

"Somebody needs to be fired for this."

UPDATE II

Daily Kos (where this item is cross-posted) commenter mspicata found FEMA's official response at MSNBC:

STATEMENT October 26, 2007

STATEMENT IN REGARDS TO FEMA'S TUESDAY PRESS BRIEFING

FEMA's goal is to get information out as soon as possible, and in trying to do so we made an error in judgment. Our intent was to provide useful information and be responsive to the many questions we have received. We are reviewing our press procedures and will make the changes necessary to ensure that all of our communications are straight forward and transparent.

At FEMA, our focus is disaster operations and, in this case, it means working closely with the State of California to support their response to the devastating fires. We're committed to being there for the State and being good partners. In working to do so we did not put enough focus on how we communicate to the public.

The real story -- how well the response and recovery elements are working in this disaster -- should not be lost because of how we tried to meet the needs of the media in distributing facts.

We can and must do better, and apologize for this error in judgment.
"Error in judgment?"

Yes, that is one way of describing it. "Fraud" would be another.

Call me cynical, but I doubt very strongly that they are truly sorry for this shameless act of fraud. They're just sorry that they got caught.

UPDATE III

White House Press Secretary Dana Perino tries to put some daylight between her boss and the yahoos at FEMA who thought this would be a good idea.

1 comments:

Jeff Gannon said...

Old Media Ablaze Over Staged FEMA Presser

Liberal activists and the Old Media are aghast and outraged over a press conference conducted last Tuesday by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Reporters were only able to listen to a department spokesman respond to questions about relief efforts for the California wildfires posed by other members of the FEMA staff. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff appropriately chastised the sham press conference and promised an investigation and disciplinary action and the White House expressed its displeasure with the incident.

Surely no one at FEMA believed that the staged event would not immediately be discovered and criticized. What could the motivation have been for such a stunt? Perhaps FEMA wanted an opportunity to present its version of events before the Old Media created its own reality about the fires and the actions of the agency. News consumers had already listened to reporters making comparisons to the federal response to Hurricane Katrina and attempting to find fault with the handling of relief efforts. California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had to take ABC’s Claire Shipman by the hand to convince her that everything possible was being done and that she should stop trying to invent mistakes and shortcomings. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and other environuts demagogued the tragedy as evidence of the effect of global warming, while California Democrats like Sen. Barbara Boxer and Lt. Governor John Garamendi incorrectly claimed that relief efforts were impeded by having troops and equipment in Iraq.

One of the lessons learned in the wake of Katrina is how the unaccountable Old Media are able to create a false impression that their ideological soul mates in the Democratic Party use for political advantage. In my book, “The Great Media War: A Battlefield Report”, I detail the flawed coverage of one of the greatest natural disasters in American history – a record that has yet to be corrected.

When I learned of the fake news conference, I expected that the characterization of Jeff Gannon as a “phony reporter” would be revived. Liberal media activist Keith Olbermann noted it on his nightly train wreck of a talk show and the lefties of the blogosphere dutifully repeated it ad nauseum. This is a classic case of how a lie becomes reality, since the record proves otherwise. I was as real as a reporter gets, writing over 500 articles as a White House correspondent, a job that Secret Service records indicate I actually showed up for more than 200 times over the course of two years. The veracity of my work as a reporter has never been successfully challenged.

Further, in 2006 – a year after my supposed exposure as a “phony reporter” - my peers accepted me into the National Press Club, the most prestigious association of professional journalists in the world. My book about the media will be featured at the National Press Club’s 30th annual book fair on November 1. Not bad for a “fake, fraud and phony.”