FEMA's fake reporters
What if they threw a press conference and nobody came?
That was the scenario when FEMA scheduled a 2007 press conference to update media on efforts to combat raging wildfires in California.
To reporters, press conferences are a necessary evil in covering big stories for which a public official has to efficiently answer questions or detail talking points, and they know they must separate spin from facts. But delivering the trut is harder when a press conference is missing one very important element -- the press.
Instead of letting reporters grill executives, FEMA filled the room with staffers and agency officials. It was a make-believe press conference!
In a memo to all FEMA employees Oct. 29, 2007, administrator R. David Paulison said that "without intending to deceive," the FEMA external affairs staff "nevertheless lost perspective of the core imperative that they preserve the credibility of our agency." He described the fake press event as among "a series of serious mistakes and extremely poor decisions."
Among the issues Paulison cited is that media who did get to take part in the conference off-site were restricted to a "listen only" capability, which kept them from stepping on the toes of the fake reporters who did get to ask questions.
An earlier statement from FEMA's vice admiral, Harvey Johnson, missed the point: "The real story -- how well the response and recovery elements are working in this disaster -- should not be lost because of how we tried to meet the needs of the media in distributing facts."