Third Party & Independents Archives

Dumbest PR blunder ever

The Bush administration has had more than its share of PR blunders over the past few years. Think Hurricane Katrina. Think Weapons of Mass Destruction. Think “Mission Accomplished.”

But what happened last week during the worst fires in California history really takes the cake.

Perhaps still stinging from the Katrina disaster, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) employees posed as reporters at a fake "news conference," tossing softball questions at their boss, Vice Adm. Harvey E. Johnson, the agency's deputy director. No real reporters were there, because FEMA only provided news agencies with a fifteen minute warning of the meeting. FEMA did allow real reporters to dial into a phone hookup, but they were not allowed to ask any questions.

The video feed of this fiction was provided to all the networks. Several channels carried it live, fooled into thinking it was real. Others carried clips from it later in the day.

The White House, to their credit, immediately condemned the forgery, calling it an "error in judgement." White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said, "It’s not something I would have condoned, and they, I’m sure, will not do it again.

Duh.

Even the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees FEMA, called it "inexcusable and offensive". Spokeswoman Laura Keehner said, "We find it offensive, and it won’t happen again".

But the real question here is: what attitude within this presidency created an environment where government employees would ever even consider such an idiotic stunt?

Is it possible that the President who, we are told, rarely reads newspapers and seldom watches TV news, leads by example? If he has such disdain for the press, it’s no surprise that the people who work for him would follow his lead.

Bush apologists like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly may argue that the media have earned the scorn of the President and his people. They may be right. But that’s not the point. When you do something like this, you're not just trashing journalists, you're showing your disrespect for anyone who reads a newspaper, watches television or reads news on the internet. The framers of our constitution understood that when they made the first amendment the first amendment. They understood the inherent danger of a government that controls the information its citizens receive. And if you still aren't convinced, ask any of the refugees who've fled Cuba about the importance of an independent, free press.

That's why any politician, any company, any government agency that cares what people think of them should take the press seriously and treat them with respect. Even in this age of citizen journalists, blogs and web-based news, traditional reporters and editors still have a huge influence on public opinion. You don’t have to like them. You don't have to agree with them. But if you want to put your best foot forward, you better learn how to deal with them.

Posted by Dan Schillinger at October 30, 2007 7:43 PM
Comments
Comment #237254

Bush apologists should realize that it’s up to the politicians to justify being treated well by their actions. The press shouldn’t be paid flatterers of the powerful.

The easiest, simplest way to shape news coverage is to do your job well.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at October 30, 2007 9:38 PM
Comment #237257

Independant free press? Where does that exist exactly? Or did no one read my article about the lack of Freedom of Communication that the FCC brings upon un?

Real media and reporters would not passivly rely upon a ‘news conference’ to get a story, they would actively seek them out.

Sure, the government should ‘play the game’, game being the operative word. But don’t for a second thing that a) the media in this country is ‘free’ or b) there is anything resembling journalism going on at the major news outlets these days. The days of ‘watergate’ are long gone, unfortunately.

Posted by: Rhinehold at October 30, 2007 10:06 PM
Comment #237266

Bush may very well disdain the media. And from the crap I’ve seen coming from them I wouldn’t blame him if he does.
But that doesn’t excuse him or any other members of his administration disdaining the American public so much that they’d even think of a stunt like last weeks fiasco much less try to pull it off.
And just why doesn’t it surprise me any that this bunch had the gull to try a dumbassed stunt like that?

Posted by: Ron Brown at October 30, 2007 11:50 PM
Comment #237293

Being elected or appointed to federal government is NO assurance of competence or that these individuals are even smart. America graduates millions of students from high school and college who are dumb in their decision making. This staged event was a DUMB decision by someone with a college degree. Proof that education is no guarantor of smarts, though it correlates with smarter decision making people overall.

Posted by: David R. Remer at October 31, 2007 7:38 AM
Comment #237298


Many people seem to think that what FEMA did was dumb but, no one seems suprised that something like this could happen within the Bush Administration.

Posted by: jlw at October 31, 2007 9:07 AM
Comment #237299

The fact of the matter is, the disdain for the media is born of their disdain for most of the American people. They want us to be sit around like lumps on a log while they do what they think is good for us. A press that actually asks difficult questions that they expect answers to makes that difficult.

The irony is, if they hadn’t pulled this stunt trying to get positive press for free, they might have come out of this situation looking better, or at least having been benignly ignored.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at October 31, 2007 9:13 AM
Comment #237302
Many people seem to think that what FEMA did was dumb but, no one seems suprised that something like this could happen within the Bush Administration.

Which is telling enough, indeed.

Posted by: Philippe Houdoin at October 31, 2007 9:33 AM
Comment #237345
The fact of the matter is, the disdain for the media is born of their disdain for most of the American people. They want us to be sit around like lumps on a log while they do what they think is good for us. A press that actually asks difficult questions that they expect answers to makes that difficult.

1) That’s quite the logical leap to say that disdain for the press is disdain for the American people, Stephen. And without anything else to back that up I can’t buy it. “The Media” has become an aritocracy unto its own and most Americans disdain it themselves. Are you suggesting that the American people disdain themselves?

2) Since when has the press asked difficult questions of anyone, especially at a press conference such as this? They would be seen as insensitive and the atristocracy doesn’t want bad press…

The fact is, those looking to destroy the administration are trying to use anything they can find, label it as ‘beyond all human dignity’ and force that down the undecided’s throat. This was a stupid move that cost nobody anything and says nothing about how FEMA is actually doing its JOB. The calls for criminal proceedings was particularly laughable.

Posted by: Rhinehold at October 31, 2007 9:24 PM
Comment #237356

Rhinehold-
Even if all FEMA did here was just stage the press conference, that’s enough to justify outrage. It’s bad enough to watch cronies manipulate the media, but to have them attempting to win public support by playing both sides of the game is not only abominable, but dangerous if allowed to go unchecked.

Put rather simply, this is a deception of an altogether deliberate kind, and when elected officials and their bureaucrats decide to walk this path, it is no sin to punish them dearly for that. I want to know what I want to know, not what they are prepared to feed me.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at November 1, 2007 2:48 AM
Comment #237431
I want to know what I want to know, not what they are prepared to feed me.

What exactly do you think a press conference is?

What you want is investigative journalism. Press conference are EXACTLY providing to what they want to feed you.

Posted by: Rhinehold at November 2, 2007 12:01 AM
Comment #237643

Okay folks,
Enough is enough!!! I just returned from the Wildfires in San Diego with the Red Cross.

“California {WAS NOT} BURNING”
as as implied by the Media coverage. I would love to go on about the irresponsible media coverage, but right now, I an replying to the article regarding FEMA.

FEMA did far more harm that good. I was in California for ten (10) days with the Red Cross, and not only were we unable to accomplish very much, FEMA did relatively NOTHING! The State of California should be commended for handling the wildfire problems efficiently, with a grace, knowledge, and assurance that FEMA could never manage.

FEMA employees took up valuable hotel space, needed for the victims who needed shelter. They filled restaurants who were already attempting to feed those whose kitchens were inaccessible. They clogged up the highways, creating havoc by making illegal U-Turns, creating several roadblocks due to the accidents they had.

Yes, there were major fires. I saw the burned homes, businesses, and forests for myself. And yes for a brief time there were more people evacuated than in Katrina. That is about as far as a comparisons as can be made. This would be like comparing apples to watermelons,…, no, make that apples to elephants.

The vast majority of victims in San Diego were wealthier, home owners, laden with insurance, compared to the poverty stricken, renters, with no insurance at all.

Many of those who were evacuated spent time in the Aquadome, where they received massages, foods from various cultures, musicians holding different types of musical concerts, etc. (No I am NOT JOKING) Most definitely not like the Astrodome, of Katrina.

Those in shelters were treated with the dignity they deserved, unlike the treatment received by the Katrina survivors.

To my knowledge no one has been forcefully relocated.

FEMA attempted to contrast their response to California by trying desperately trying to prove it handled this disaster better than it handled Katrina.

It didn’t. Plain and simple. California handled this disaster much better than Louisiana did.
Much of the time, I saw FEMA workers roaming around, rather like chickens with their heads cut off, boasting about how much they could do for the victims, and then tucking tail in shame, when they realized they could so nothing. It was really quite something to watch. The victims either made to much money, had second homes to flee too, or family members who had already taken them in.

As for the few families who did not fit into this area, it was the Red Cross who made sure they had medications, food, housing, clothing, etc.

For the most part FEMA accomplished absolutely NOTHING! That for the most part they were not even needed. That bears repeating: For the most part FEMA accomplished absolutely NOTHING! That for the most part they were not even needed.

There is a brewing disaster in my own state of SC. as well as several other of the south-eastern states. It’s called a drought. If our states try to depend on FEMA for help, we all deserve to die of thirst.

IMHO the entire agency is totally inept, worthless, and useless, and I hate that my tax dollars are being wasted on keeping it operational.

“Dog or Pony show” or not.

Posted by: Linda H. at November 5, 2007 5:01 PM
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