The White House scolded the Federal Emergency Management Agency yesterday for staging a phony news conference about assistance to victims of wildfire. The agency, much criticized for its response after Hurricane Katrina more than two years ago, arranged to have FEMA employees play the part of independent reporters Tuesday and ask questions of Vice Admiral Harvey E. Johnson, the agency's deputy director.
The questions were predictably soft and gratuitous.
"I'm very happy with FEMA's response," Johnson said in reply to one query from an agency employee. FEMA gave reporters only 15 minutes' notice about Tuesday's news conference. No reporter attended the news conference in person, agency spokesman Aaron Walker said. The agency made available an 800 number so reporters could call in and listen to the news conference, but not ask questions. With no reporters on hand and an agency video camera providing a feed carried live by some TV networks, FEMA employees posed questions for Johnson that included: "Are you happy with FEMA's response so far?"