My heart sank when I heard this happened on Tuesday, as my two Media PCs only retain stuff for three days. Sure enough, nothing on PCs 1 and 2. But what about Tivo? Jackpot. Here it is, preserved for posterity, the “press” conference that wasn’t as it aired on MSNBC. WaPo exposed it this morning in a column written by Al Kamen. The man at the podium is Vice Adm. Harvey Johnson. Quote:
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…
“And so I think what you’re really seeing here is the benefit of experience, the benefit of good leadership and the benefit of good partnership,” Johnson said, “none of which were present in Katrina.” (Wasn’t Michael Chertoff DHS chief then?) Very smooth, very professional. 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.
White House spokesman Dana Perino has since condemned the subterfuge and FEMA has apologized, with reprimands possibly on the way. Painfully obvious exit question: If reporters didn’t have time to get to the presser, why not have Johnson simply read a statement and then spontaneously address questions they’d received in the field instead of having staffers pose them as impostors?
Update: I copied comments from the headlines item over to this post.
Update: Three days after the fake presser, one of the questioners has himself a new job. Kicked upstairs?
Update: Chertoff’s promising “appropriate discipline.” Quote: “I think it was one of the dumbest and most inappropriate things I’ve seen since I’ve been in government.”