Last Friday, the Washington Post revealed that a FEMA press conference about the California wildfires was staged. In an event that was aired live on cable stations, FEMA staffers posed as journalists and lobbed softball questions at Vice Adm. Harvey E. Johnson, the deputy administrator of FEMA.
FEMA quickly came under a storm of criticism. The Department of Homeland Security said the propaganda press conference was “inexcusable,” and claimed they were taking the issue “very seriously.” Dana Perino said the White House does not “condone” FEMA’s actions.
John “Pat” Philbin, FEMA’s director of external affairs, quickly announced his resignation. “It was absolutely a bad decision. I regret it happened. Certainly…I should have stopped it,” he said. But Philbin simultaneously announced that he was landing comfortably at the Director of Public Affairs for the Director of National Intelligence, where he is starting today.
The Bush administration has sought to portray Philbin’s departure as an act of accountability. In a phone call with CNN’s Jeanne Meserve this morning, FEMA Director David Paulison pointed to Philbin’s exit as an example of the “disciplinary action” that was being undertaken in the wake of the phony press conference:
MESERVE: [Paulison] also said that some disciplinary action has been taken over at FEMA and that he was very disturbed at the effect this had on morale in his agency. When I asked if it had a deleterious effect, he said undoubtedly it had. [...]
I did ask him also about John Philbin, also known also as Pat Philbin. … I asked Paulison if he thought it was appropriate that Philbin should make the move over to another government agency. He said that’s between Philbin and his new boss. But Paulison did say in an e-mail, Philbin had taken complete responsibility for what had happened at that press conference.
The administration’s efforts spin Philbin’s departure defy the reality of the situation. In an email to PRNewser, a FEMA spokesman described Philbin’s departure as a job promotion. He is landing an “amazing opportunity to head the communications shop at ODNI,” said FEMA press secretary Aaron Walker.
For DNI Mike McConnell — who has gained a reputation for hyping and manipulating terrorist threats — the acquisition of an expert in phony communications seems quite appropriate.
UPDATE: The AP reports that Philbin’s hiring has been put on hold by the DNI, and McConnell is now “weighing whether to hire” him.