The great FEMA f-f-f…fake-up

By Sujay Kumar

The following is a fictional press conference. A representative of the Federal Emergency Management Agency apologizes for actual events that transpired last week.

FEMA: After news of the fake press conference FEMA held last week spread like wildfire, we thought it was necessary to evaluate our tactics of communicating with the public during disaster operations. It was our error of judgment to stage a news briefing using FEMA staff as reporters. We take full responsibility for this inexcusable breach of trust. In the future we will focus on delivering news transparently. We will now open the floor to questions.

Reporter: Sir, why would FEMA stoop so low that it had to fake a press conference?

FEMA: The press conference was announced without giving reporters enough time to get here. We generally believe that any lead time is sufficient for a reporter, but in this specific case, it seems as though 15 minutes was not adequate.

Reporter: But why did FEMA not wait for actual reporters to arrive? Instead, the real reporters listened to the proceedings on the telephone.

FEMA: Because we were being bombarded with question after question about the California wildfires, we decided that it was absolutely necessary to spread information as soon as possible. When it became apparent that the reporters would not arrive on time, we decided to create the illusion of a real press conference. This was done by having a “last question” and, of course, not openly stating that there were no actual reporters present. You see, our intentions were noble but like we stated earlier, our tactics may not have been.

Reporter: Sir, aside from this apology, what else is being done to ensure that this breach of trust will not happen again?

FEMA: Our chief David Paulison has reprimanded Pat Philbin, the director of external FEMA affairs. Mr. Paulison has said that this was an example of “egregious decision making” and that Mr. Philbin and his staff’s actions were both ridiculous and unethical.

Sadly, Harvey Johnson, FEMA’s deputy administrator, who presided over the news conference was unaware it was not real. He did not recognize that the reporters were actual people working in the press office. Mr. Johnson feels very horrible about the situation and his hurt credibility.

Reporter: That’s not true. It says here that Johnson called on a reporter he “didn’t know” by name. But because we’re on the topic of potentially damaged credibility, how can FEMA expect to regain our trust?

FEMA: Hopefully, the real story of the strength of our response and recovery effort in California will not be overshadowed or tainted by this. We are aware that the morale of FEMA will take a hit. Like Mr. Paulison said, “The last two years of planning for a major of disaster fell in place . … Things were working as they were supposed to … and that just killed everything you tried to have happen.”

We stress that this incident should not be a measure of our development and maturity, but a measure of our commitment to deliver the truth, even though this time we went too far.

Reporter: Sir, how can you say that after two of the six questions asked at the fake press conference were “Are you happy with FEMA’s response so far?” and “What lessons learned from Katrina have been applied?”

In FEMA’s quest to deliver the truth, to the former the reply was, “I’m very happy with FEMA’s response so far. This is a FEMA and a federal government that’s leaning forward, not waiting to react. And you have to be pretty pleased to see that.” To the latter, “I think what you’re really seeing here is the benefit of experience, the benefit of good leadership and the benefit of good partnership . … So, I think, as a nation, people should sit up and take notice … at how well the state and the local governments are performing, look at how well we’re working together.”

It seems like FEMA’s trying awfully hard to make itself look good.

FEMA: No comment.