Maybe the Federal Emergency Management Agency is still the same monument to buffoonish incompetence and Bush administration cronyism that it was during the Hurricane Katrina debacle, maybe it’s not. Either way, it’s quite clear that the agency hasn’t risen above willingness to commit outright fraud in its dealings with the public and the press.
WaPo reports that FEMA Deputy Administrator Harvey Johnson, inundated with phone calls about the fires currently consuming large chunks of California, scheduled a “news briefing” for 1:00 PM EDT today. The press got all of fifteen minutes notice. Reporters got an 800 number to use in the inevitable event they couldn’t get to FEMA’s offices in a quarter hour, but the phone hookup was listen-only.
After giving a statement Mr. Johnson announced that he would take questions. The few reporters in attendance lobbed softball after softball. Johnson deftly knocked them all out of the park. The reporters were also gracious enough to let Johnson pontificate at length regarding the agency’s present state of magnificence.
The tenor and substance of the briefing may have resulted the fact that the “reporters” weren’t really reporters at all. They were FEMA staffers.
FEMA’s deputy director of public affairs, one of the fake reporters, insists that “the staff did not make up the questions” and that Johnson didn’t known in advance what what the staffers were planning to ask: “We pulled questions from those we had been getting from reporters earlier in the day.”
Oh, I have no doubt of it! However, I suspect that vacuous inquiries like “what it means to have an emergency declaration as opposed to a major disaster declaration” and “Are you happy with FEMA’s response so far?” weren’t exactly the be-all and end-all of the reporters’ curiosities.