Friday, October 26, 2007

Truthiness at FEMA

Although it's nice to see that radio drama is still alive, it's not nice to once again have this administration rub our noses in the contempt and fear that they feel for the American people and the institutions of democracy--in this case, government transparency and a free press.
FEMA has truly learned the lessons of Katrina. Even its handling of the media has improved dramatically. For example, as the California wildfires raged Tuesday, Vice Adm. Harvey E. Johnson, the deputy administrator, had a 1 p.m. news briefing.

Reporters were given only 15 minutes' notice of the briefing, making it unlikely many could show up at FEMA's Southwest D.C. offices.

They were given an 800 number to call in, though it was a "listen only" line, the notice said -- no questions.


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.

That's right, rather than risk a real press conference with the real press asking real questions, FEMA chose to stage a press conference with their own employees respectfully pitching softball questions.

As Mark Hoofnagle points out, this is not a new low for the administration; it's a well tested form of deception for them. Mark remembers the case of Jeff Gannon, a gay hooker who was given a White House press pass so he could ask Ari Fleisher the questions he wanted to hear. My first thought wasn't of Gannon, but instead of the canned town hall meetings that the Bush reelection campaign staged in 2004. In those, crowds of hand picked supporters asked pre-screened "questions" of Bush. Those, at least, were campaign events and everyone expects a certain amount of staging and control on the election trail. Naturally, the campaign wants to show the candidate in the best light and avoid embarrassing confrontations with their opponents. The Gannon affair and the FEMA deception are in another category. These are taxpayer funded events that are held to provide us with information about the activities of our government. While FEMA and the White House press secretary can be expected to frame their answers and presentation in a way that make them look good, they do not have a right to engage in overt deception in order to do that. They should not hold a surprise "press" conference that excludes the real press and features questions from questioners whose very job security lies in satisfying the answerer.

Lies deception and theater are standard operating procedure for this administration. The American people deserve better, but they will only get it when they stand up and demand it.

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