Perhaps FEMA should stand for “Fake Every Morning & Afternoon.”
Officials of the embattled emergency management agency openly admit they screwed the pooch by holding a fake “news” conference, filling the room with staff members posing as reporters.
Both FEMA and the Bush Administration scrambled Friday to try and recover from trying to pass propaganda off as news: Another black eye for an error-prone administration.
But their excuses fell on deaf ears.
The main U.S. disaster-response agency apologized on Friday for having its employees pose as reporters in a news briefing on California’s wildfires that no journalists attended.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, still struggling to restore its image after the bungled handling of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, issued the apology after The Washington Post published details of the Tuesday briefing.
“We can and must do better, and apologize for this error in judgment,” FEMA deputy administrator Harvey Johnson, who conducted the briefing, said in a statement. “Our intent was to provide useful information and be responsive to the many questions we have received.”
No actual reporter attended the hastily called news conference in person, although some camera crews arrived late to film incidental shots, officials said.
A spokeswoman for Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who has authority over FEMA, called the incident “inexcusable and offensive to the secretary.”
“We have made it clear that stunts such as this will not be tolerated or repeated,” spokeswoman Laura Keehner said. She said the department was considering reprimands.
The White House said: “It was just a bad way to handle it.” The Bush administration has faced criticism previously over accusations it masked public relations efforts as journalism.
Although both Certoff and the White House tried Friday to distance themselves from the debacle, sources within the Bush administration say both were aware of the fake press conference before it was held.