The Federal Emergency Management Agency staged a fake news conference this week, with agency staff officials, pretending to be reporters, peppering one of their own bosses with decidedly friendly questions about the response to the California fires, the Department of Homeland Security acknowledged Friday.
FEMA Press Briefing
Harvey E. Johnson, FEMA deputy director: Thank you all for coming this morning. As you know, FEMA has been working night and day to respond to the wildfires currently burning in parts of
Reporter 1: Did you like your coffee this morning? I added a dollop of heavy cream.
Johnson: Er, yes, it was excellent.
Reporter 1: I’d like to say, and I think I speak for the entire news staff of my paper, that FEMA is doing a stupendous job of addressing a very difficult situation.
Johnson: Thank you very much. Was that your question?
Reporter 1: No. Is that a new haircut?
Johnson: Yes, yes it is. Thanks for noticing.
Reporter 2: Would you describe the fires as being “completely contained,” “pretty much out” or “just lots of smoke”?
Johnson: That’s a very good question.
Reporter 2: It’s the one you wrote on the index card.
Johnson: At this point, we believe the fires are pretty much out and there’s no reason for continued evacuations.
Reporter 1: But it is true that where there’s smoke, there’s fire, right?
Johnson: I suppose you could say that.
Reporter 1: Would you characterize the firefighters as having performed a heckuva job? [Laughter]
Johnson: Well, you said it, I didn’t!
Reporter 3: There have been reports that the tens of thousands of evacuees living at Qualcomm stadium are actually staying in the luxury suites. Is that true?
Johnson: I believe so, but you’d have to check with stadium officials.
Reporter 3: Those are the ones with TVs and complimentary food and beverages, right?
Reporter 1: Sounds a lot nicer than trailers! Oh, did you get the phone messages I left on your desk this morning?
Johnson: I’ve been in the field all night.
Reporter 1: You sure seem to be working hard. It must be tiring.
Johnson: No, I’m fine.
Reporter 1: You sure? Maybe you’re working too many hours.
Reporter 2: He said he’s fine. Why don’t you stop badgering him?
Reporter 3: Yeah, you’re out of line, Mary. Mr. Johnson, I’d like to turn to FEMA’s response to Hurricane Katrina for a moment. In comparing the agency’s response to the wildfires to its handling of Katrina, would it be fair to say that FEMA has learned from the past and is applying those lessons to its handling of this crisis? Or would it be more accurate to say that FEMA is handling this crisis based on lessons learned in the past?
Johnson: Well, that’s a tough one. I’d say things are going very smoothly.
Reporter 3: But sir, you haven’t addressed my question. In fact, FEMA is handling this crisis based on lessons learned in the past, isn’t that accurate?
Johnson: I don’t want to get into comparing two very different types of natural disasters. Let’s just say that we’ve learned from the past and are handling this crisis accordingly.
Reporter 2: So, you’ve made mistakes. Is that what you’re saying? People make mistakes, and they learn from them. I believe you’re paraphrasing Santana, who said those who don’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Is that correct?
Johnson: You mean Santayana.
Reporter 2: It says here “Santana.”
Johnson: That’s a misprint.
Reporter 2: I was wondering about that. Which one is the guitarist? [Laughter]
Reporter 1: That’s Santana.
Johnson: He has a new album out.
Reporter 1: Would you characterize it as “good” or “great”?
Johnson: It’s pretty good. [Laughter]
Reporter 1: You’re hedging, bo . . . er, Mr. Johnson.
Reporter 2: Can we discuss the federal aid that’s just pouring into the region? I mean, it’s like, what, a billion dollars? That sounds like a ton of money.
Johnson: We believe it’s the federal government’s responsibility to step in when a natural disaster overwhelms local and state resources.
Reporter 2: Gosh, it seems like the White House has really stepped up to the plate. You must be pleased with their response.
Johnson: Yes, I just got off the phone with the President. He’s on his way to
Reporter 3: Wait, the President is coming here? Right now? Boy, he really does care. But he’s not stepping on your toes, right sir? He’s giving you the resources you need to battle these fires, but he’s letting you make the important decisions. The decisions your training has prepared you to make?
Johnson: I’d say that’s accurate.
Reporter 3: Shoot, can you repeat that? This tape recorder thingie wasn’t on.
Johnson: I’d say that’s accurate.
Reporter 3: Testing, testing. OK, got it working now.
Reporter 1: Bush is coming? But I thought you said we could go home early.
Johnson: This briefing is over.