WASHINGTON – The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s No. 2 official apologized Friday for leading a staged news conference Tuesday in which FEMA employees posed as reporters while real reporters listened on a telephone conference line and were barred from asking questions.
“We are reviewing our press procedures and will make the changes necessary to ensure that all of our communications are straightforward and transparent,” Vice Adm. Harvey E. Johnson Jr., FEMA’s deputy administrator, said in a statement.
“We can and must do better, and apologize for this error in judgment,” Johnson said, a view repeated Friday by press officers at the White House and the Department of Homeland Security, who criticized the event.
FEMA announced the news conference at its headquarters about 15 minutes before it was to begin, making it unlikely that reporters could attend. Instead, FEMA set up a telephone conference line so reporters could listen.
In the briefing, parts of which were televised live by cable news channels, Johnson stood behind a lectern, called on questioners who did not disclose that they were FEMA employees, and gave replies emphasizing that his agency’s response to this week’s California wildfires was far better than its response to Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.
“It was absolutely a bad decision. I regret it happened. Certainly … I should have stopped it,” said John “Pat” Philbin, FEMA’s director of external affairs.