From The New York Times:
WASHINGTON, Oct. 29 — A fake news conference at the Federal Emergency Management Agency has produced, along with outrage and ridicule, its first personnel casualty.
John P. Philbin, until last week the agency’s public relations chief, was supposed to start work Monday as the new director of public affairs for the nation’s top intelligence official, Mike McConnell.
But he learned instead that he would not.
So far, it looks as if no others will lose their jobs over the incident, but the public affairs office is being reshuffled. As of Monday, Russ Knocke, the press secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, FEMA’s parent, has been temporarily transferred to the agency to supervise the press operation.
From CBS News:
John “Pat” Philbin, the now former director of external affairs for FEMA, told CBS News that he should have stopped the press conference that the agency held last week without any media present.
Philbin himself was heard off-camera asking Vice Admiral Harvey Johnson, his boss, a question. He now says he feels terrible about what happened adding that the FEMA press office was under considerable pressure to get information on the California fires out to the press and was working on little sleep.
“I can definitively tell you that there were no discussions or conversations about setting up a fake news conference.”
Philbin said that Adm. Johnson, the second-in-command at the agency, did not realize it was FEMA staffers and not reporters who were asking questions, despite the fact that Johnson called on members of the FEMA staff by name during the press conference.
All together now, kids—-HUH? He called people by name, but he didn’t know that it was no reporters asking the questions? These are the people in charge? But let’s continue…..
DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff has called for disciplinary action for the fake news event, which was held last Tuesday at the height of the California fires. But Philbin’s departure from FEMA is not related to any disciplinary action within DHS.
Philbin had long-standing plans to retire last Friday and begin a new position today at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. But the ODNI is distancing itself from Philbin and said in a statement today, “We do not normally comment on personnel matters. However, we can confirm that Mr. Philbin is not, nor is he scheduled to be, the Director of Public Affairs for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.”
But don’t worry, kids, the head guy is appalled, appalled I tell ya!
In an internal memo obtained Monday by CNN, Federal Emergency Management Agency chief David Paulison rips the agency’s public affairs staff for a staged news conference in which staff members posed questions to FEMA’s No. 2 official, Harvey Johnson.
Paulison said the entire episode “represented egregious decision-making” by the director of external affairs for FEMA, Pat Philbin, and his staff, who, he said, “lost perspective of the core imperative that they preserve the credibility of our agency.”
“Their actions represented a breach of ethical practice that tore at the credibility of FEMA, the deputy administrator and that of their own office,” Paulison wrote in his memo. “I do not condone their actions, no matter how well-intended, and have conveyed my displeasure directly through formal reprimand and admonishment to those involved.”
The credibility of FEMA?
Paulison said reporters were given only 15 minutes notice for the news conference, held last Tuesday after the agency received a number of media queries about its response to the California wildfires.
“Inadequate notice is not acceptable,” Paulison said in his memo, and setting up a “listen only” conference call for reporters was “inappropriate.”
“Under no circumstances is it appropriate for FEMA employees to pose questions during a FEMA press event,” he wrote.
He added, “I am extremely displeased by what transpired and will make the necessary changes in order to regain confidence and credibility in the eyes of the people we serve.”
In a telephone call to CNN earlier Monday, Paulison said Philbin sent him an e-mail in which he took full responsibility for the incident.
Paulison said the events were “not acceptable,” adding that not allowing reporters on the telephone to ask questions was “ridiculous.”
“I am calling to apologize and say it will not happen again,” he said.
He said “the rules are changing” to prevent any recurrence. Reporters will now be given at least an hour’s warning before a press conference and reporters calling in will be able to ask questions in the future, he said.
Manufacturing news? Hey! I bet they have a place for Philbin over at Faux News! 😀