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FEMA Stages Press Conference: Staff Pose As Journalists And Ask ‘Softball’ Questions

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"FEMA Stages Press Conference: Staff Pose As Journalists And Ask ‘Softball’ Questions"

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On Tuesday, while “wildfires raged” in California, Vice Adm. Harvey E. Johnson, the deputy administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), held a press conference at FEMA’s Southwest D.C. offices that was “carried live on Fox News, MSNBC and other outlets.” In the presser, Johnson said he was “very happy with FEMA’s response” while praising “the good messaging” of federal and local government responders.

But if the questions lobbed at Johnson seemed a bit like softballs, that’s because they were asked by FEMA employees posing as journalists. The Washington Post’s Al Kamen reports:

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.

Watch a segment of Fox News’ coverage of the presser, which never mentions the FEMA stage handling:

[flv http://video.thinkprogress.org/2007/10/FakeFEMAPresser.320.240.flv]

Though FEMA told Kamen that “the staff did not make up the questions,” the press briefing was filled with softball questions and opportunities for Johnson to praise the FEMA’s response to the disaster, contrasting it with the agency’s performance during Hurricane Katrina. Kamen writes:

[S]omething 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.

Considering FEMA gave reporters “only 15 minutes’ notice of the briefing,” it gives off the perception that they didn’t want reporters to show up and ask questions that would disrupt the agency’s propaganda performance.

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