On Friday, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino had to take up the issue of FEMA's decision to stage a Potemkin press conference on the agency's response to the California wildfires.
Q: Dana, on Tuesday, FEMA's deputy administrator held what was called a news briefing to talk about the California wildfires. And from what we understand, the questions were posed not by reporters, but by staffers, and that distinction was not made known. Is that appropriate?
MS. PERINO: It is not. It is not a practice that we would employ here at the White House or that we -- we certainly don't condone it. We didn't know about it beforehand. FEMA has issued an apology, saying that they had an error in judgment when they were attempting to try to get out a lot of information to reporters, who were asking for answers to a variety of questions in regards to the wildfires in California. It's not something I would have condoned, and they, I'm sure, will not do it again.
Indeed. It is all but assured that FEMA will not be pulling such a stunt again, seeing as how the next eleven million times they hold a press conference, members of the actual press are likely to ask, "For real, this time?" Still, it's hard to see how, exactly, this incident can be laid off as a mere "error in judgement," when the act itself was so well and deliberately planned:
The agency gave reporters just 15 minutes notice to attend, and those members of the media who called in via phone lines could listen to the event but were not able to ask questions.
FEMA's Deputy Administrator Harvey Johnson conducted the event like a regular press briefing, assuring those in attendance that FEMA -- the agency that performed so poorly in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina -- was responding well to the disaster in Southern California.
Who were "those in attendance?" Why, FEMA public affairs personnel, all afflicted by a simultaneous, apparently communicable, "error in judgement." FEMA's own press secretary was there, moderating this staged event. And at no time did any of the gathered professionals tasked with relating FEMA's mission and operations to public in the clearest possible realize that an all-out organizational attempt to obfuscate the truth might not be the sincerest way to fulfill that mission. The man who staged the fake conference, external affairs director John P. Philbin, was just days shy of taking a new position as "head of public affairs at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence." Well, he won't be taking it now!
Asked if the President was "concerned" about the pretend presser, Perino shrugged it off whilst botching the conventional definition of the word "condone:"
I just said that the White House did not know about it before hand, and the White House condones* [sic] it. And they have apologized for it. They had an error in judgment, they've admitted that. And I think that what they were -- I don't think that there was any mal-intent. I think that they were trying to provide information to the public through the press, because there were so many questions pouring in. It was just a bad way to handle it, and they know that.
So: no "mal-intent," just an unfortunate error in judgment among people who wouldn't ever dream of misleading the press. The White House's favorite plucky newswoman, Karen Ryan, could not be reached for comment.