FEMA Flack Shenanigans

29.10.07

Categorie: Accountability, Naval, Politics, Reporters |

Last week FEMA officials staged a fake press conference to promote the agency’s response to the California wildfires, Fox News reports:

A fake news conference at FEMA headquarters in Washington last week has cost its organizer a new job at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and he won’t be returning to his previous post either. FOX News learned Monday that John P. “Pat” Philbin, who was supposed to be joining the ODNI’s public affairs division on Monday as its chief, is no longer being considered for the job. … Philbin’s employment at FEMA officially ended Friday, DHS officials said, because he had already submitted his resignation to take the DNI job. He will not be returning, and a page linking to his biography on the FEMA Web site has been taken down.

Philbin came under fire last week after he put together a short-notice, televised news conference at FEMA headquarters regarding the southern California wildfires. Members of the press couldn’t participate in the event, but could listen through a call-in number. No journalists were physically present at the event featuring FEMA deputy administrator Vice Adm. Harvey Johnson. Questions ended up being asked by FEMA employees — including Philbin — who posed as reporters. Working press panned the news conference for its soft-ball questions, which included: “Are you happy with FEMA’s response so far?” FEMA later apologized for the phony news briefing and said it was reviewing its procedures for dealing with news organizations.

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When CBS followed up, Philbin had some of the lamest excuses ever:

“I should have cancelled it quickly. I did not have good situational awareness of what was happening,” he told CBS News in a telephone interview.

Philbin himself was heard off-camera asking Vice Admiral Harvey Johnson, his boss, a question. He now says he feels terrible about what happened adding that the FEMA press office was under considerable pressure to get information on the California fires out to the press and was working on little sleep. “I can definitively tell you that there were no discussions or conversations about setting up a fake news conference.”

So who is this Philbin guy? His LinkedIn profile offers some clues. He’s a former Coast Guardsman, for one. Here’s how he describes his 3-year stint with the service’s Office of Strategic Analysis:

Established robust working relationships with Washington, D.C. think tanks & expanded executive fellowships to raise awareness of Coast Guard’s relevance in homeland security issues; resulted in numerous Op Eds & other published material by leading academics. Supervised executive & military fellows assigned to think tanks & war colleges. Leveraged intellectual capital of academic institutions to inform organizational decision-making. Guided investment of $4 million in seed money as a charter member of Innovation Council to improve Coast Guard operations enterprise-wide.

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One Response to “FEMA Flack Shenanigans”

  1. [...] Hot on the heels of last week’s staged FEMA news conference, Salon writer Glenn Greenwald is reporting on a bizarre and troubling exchange of emails with Iraq boss David Petraeus’ public affairs officer, one Colonel Steve Boylan. Greenwald’s thrust? That the Army, especially in Iraq, has become increasingly politicized in its dealings with the press. (This is familiar territory for readers of Ken Silverstein’s excellent work in Harper’s this summer.) Writes Greenwald: The U.S. military, like everything else, is becoming rapidly politicized, fully incorporated into and following the model of the Republican right-wing noise machine. Throughout this year, the U.S. military in Iraq has become staffed with pure Republican political hacks — including long-time Bush/Cheney P.R. hack Steve Schmidt and former White House aide Gen. Kevin Bergner. These are the most partisan and politically-motivated people around shaping U.S. military conduct. [...]

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