Fast-forward 220 years: In what promises to be a bold new strategy for this administration, FEMA will no longer rely solely on FOX to lob softball questions and provide Bush-friendly, right-ward spin to the news. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the Potemkin Press:
[A]s the California wildfires raged Tuesday, Vice Adm. Harvey E. Johnson, the deputy administrator [of FEMA], had a 1 p.m. news briefing.This "press conference" was carried live by MSNBC and FOX, looking for all intents and purposes like the real thing. This is so much better than flogging a Press Secretary! It won't be long before they're using this technique at Pennsylvania avenue, methinks. Simply call a press conference on short notice, like 30 seconds. Close the doors, fill the seats with staff, and you could even have W up there, basically reading off a teleprompter. Why rely on outsourcing the production of propaganda when you can just do it yourself?
Johnson stood behind a lectern and began with an overview before saying he would take a few questions. The first questions were about the "commodities" being shipped to Southern California and how officials are dealing with people who refuse to evacuate. He responded eloquently.
"And so I think what you're really seeing here is the benefit of experience, the benefit of good leadership and the benefit of good partnership," Johnson said, "none of which were present in Katrina." (Wasn't Michael Chertoff DHS chief then?) Very smooth, very professional. But something didn't seem right. The reporters were lobbing too many softballs. 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. We're told the questions were asked by Cindy Taylor, FEMA's deputy director of external affairs, and by "Mike" Widomski, the deputy director of public affairs. Director of External Affairs John "Pat" Philbin asked a question, and another came, we understand, from someone who sounds like press aide Ali Kirin.
Of course, this gives a bad name to Potemkin, who actually did good work for the Empress in Crimea. It does make one thing pretty clear, however. FEMA isn't actually interested in doing a good job. No, that would require competence, some level of experience and money that could otherwise be spent on denying children healthcare or hiring mercenaries to kill civilians with impunity. No, clearly the lesson of Katrina is not that FEMA should be fixed, but that it should be sheltered in its criminal inefficiency from the prying eyes of what has been (let's face it) and almost completely complicit press.
FEMA must be set free to tell its own lies directly to the American public without the pesky filter of Sean Hannity or some other minion of Murdoch! Long live the revolution!