Tuesday, October 30

Faking FEMA: Reporters Optional


"At the end of the briefing, questions were asked. I should have intervened and I didn't," said John P. "Pat" Philbin, former external affairs director for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) about his involvement in staging a fake news conference last Tuesday on the California wildfires.

The decision to stage questions with stand-ins for a FEMA news conference came after reporters were given only 15 minutes notice. While the agency also made an 800 number available for call ins, it was a listen-only arrangement. Several channels broadcasted parts of the conference live via a video feed.

Philbin will no longer take over public affairs for the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), which he had previously been offered by Mike McConnell, director of the DNI. Philbin said he understood McConnell's decision.

“It was one of the dumbest and most inappropriate things I’ve seen since being in government,” came the harshest criticism from Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff. “I have made it unambiguously clear, in Anglo Saxon prose, that it is not to ever happen again, and there will be appropriate disciplinary action taken against those people who exhibited what I regard as extraordinary poor judgment.”

Philbin may have been the fall guy, but the entire external affairs team could have been let go. No one of them, not a single team member, seemed to comprehend that staging a fake news conference was ridiculous, unethical, and a severe breach of public trust.

Let’s star over.

“Public Relations is the art and science of analyzing trends, predicting their consequences, counseling organization leaders and implementing planned programs of action which will serve both the organization’s and the public interest.” — First World Assembly of Public Relations Associations and First World Forum of Public Relations, 1978

Nowhere in this definition is a public relations professional asked to spin, lie, cover up, or otherwise present fake and fraudulent information for their employer. What is clear, however, is that professionals are to serve both the organization’s and public interest.

Maybe I should make it as clear as I make it for public relations students: the organization you defraud the public for will survive and may even thrive over time, but any abuse of public trust or the media will stay with you for the life of your career.

In this case, FEMA will carry on, while Philbin is out of his DNI job. While I admire his sincerity in saying “at the end of day, I’m the person in charge and responsible for this,” he is not doing any favors for new public relations professionals. The truth is that every single participant was responsible — whether an intern or seasoned pro. Any one of them could have suggested they skip questions and simply make a statement.

Digg!

16 comments:

Rich on 10/30/07, 9:38 AM said...

Fake Rich: So you are saying public relations professionals are responsible for their individual actions?

Rich: Yes I am.

Fake Rich: And if they are asked to defraud the public?

Rich: They can attempt to educate the employer. If that fails, they can quit. And if the public safety is at stake, they can go public. By the way, very good question.

Fake Rich: Thank you.

Jericho Saved on 10/30/07, 10:04 AM said...

Thank you Rich and Fake Rich. I agree completely. More people than Philbin should be looking for new jobs. This is one of those examples of why people don't trust government.
BTW, how did this become public? I don't recall hearing that.

Rich on 10/30/07, 11:09 AM said...

Hey Jane,

This is the Fake Rich. Since Rich is not certain yet, I thought it would be best coming from the Fake me. Or, er, not coming from the real Rich.

I believe several reporters followed up after the news conference because the questions seemed odd, like*...

"Sir, what is your name, Mr. Johnson?"

"are you a nice man?"

"Sir, do you wish these fires had never happened?"

Transcripts are usually made available after such conferences too. So it was painfully obvious this was going to be discovered. Plus, camera crews arrived at the tail end to broadcast the conference.

question credits: http://www.thespoof.com/news/spoof.cfm?headline=s2i26204

Rich on 10/30/07, 11:33 AM said...

Hey Jane,

Here you go ... it seems to be The Washington Post:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/10/25/AR2007102502488.html?nav=hcmodule

Hat Tip: http://www.prblognews.com

Best,
Rich

Jericho Saved on 10/30/07, 11:37 AM said...

Thanks again Rich and Fake Rich.

Fake Rich? Are you going to start your own blog soon? I think you'd be a lot of fun.

Rich on 10/30/07, 11:51 AM said...

Fake Rich:

Well, my primary purpose is to make Rich look good by asking the questions he is most prepared to answer so he didn't have to answer brutal questions like "how did this become public?"

That is what reporters do, you know. They ask tough questions that are impossible to answer, just like yours Jane.

So when you think about it, it makes more sense if from now on I ask the questions, Rich answers the questions, and then we let the public know how they are supposed to respond. (Um, applaud now.)

All my fake best,
Fake Rich

Jericho Saved on 10/30/07, 12:32 PM said...

Fake Rich,
I don't think Rich pays you enough. I believe you should get a job in the federal government. I'm sure they'd pay well for your specialized services.
Is that the response I should make? Only you know.

Rich on 10/30/07, 12:46 PM said...

Jane, you are true patriot and valued member of the public. If only more people were like you, our country would be better off ... void of criticism and needless distractions at the hands of the media.

You know, think of all that money that was spent writing an apologies and responses after The Washington Post broke the story. As if their questions were any better, anyway.

Maybe we could get rid of media all together and ask bloggers to vote on the news. That way you always get the news you want! Want less crime? Vote for it and that's what we'll report. No worries.

Really, Fake is totally underrated.

Thank you too for saying that I am underpaid, but as my function is make Rich look good, I have to say that I am adequately paid by Rich.

All my fake best,
Fake Rich

Ichthus said...

Gee, the comments were more entertaining than the original article. Have you guys thought about showbiz?

Jericho Saved on 10/30/07, 1:35 PM said...

Fake Rich,
You are much smarter than Real Rich. I think that's a great idea-vote on the news.Instead of CNN we can be VNN-Vote News Now.
Bloggers Unite! Write The News You Want.
Ichtus, is that really you? Yes, show biz is us.
Fake Rich, when can you have that set up?

Rich on 10/30/07, 2:31 PM said...

Fake Rich:

Oh, Rich is much smarter. I am a mere figment by comparison.

I will say though that there was absolutely no way Harvey Johnson could have possibly recognized his own staff. That's how good they were.

And thanks Ichthus, show business ... snow business. It's all good to me.

All my fake best,
Fake Rich

Anonymous said...

Hey, Fake Rich

Did you consider that with all these people in shelters and losing all they had and lots of other people very scared that this exercise or practice or whatever they were thinking was in really bad taste, especially when real info was dribbling out?

I know your supposted to tell us what to think but gotta say, I do wonder what they'd been smoking for breakfast that day...

Nightbird

Rich on 10/30/07, 3:02 PM said...

Fake Rich:

Only the real Rich would think something like that. Everybody else knows that all publicity is good publicity ... so perception is much more important than actually doing something to help people.

The goal is to look like your helping people and get as much blog buzz as possible, not actually help people. Actually helping people does not make the news; hosting fake conferences. Front page stuff.

All my fake best,
Fake Rich

* Rich actually has friends there he has not been able to make contact with and recently asked what does it take to fund TERT (www.njti-tert.org).

Jericho Saved on 10/30/07, 4:20 PM said...

Real Rich doesn't believe in Buzz. His perception is that people need to use real measurements.
We may have to dump him if he can't agree with us.

Rich on 10/30/07, 6:07 PM said...

Fake Rich:

Buzz is everything. Besides, you cannot get banned if you make it all up. Check out Bill Sledzik's blog (Tough Sledding) and you'll see what I mean. See, they'd all be better off being fake on their own instead asking media people to be fake for them.

http://toughsledding.wordpress.com/2007/10/30/no-need-for-media-relations-not-when-you-make-the-blacklist/

Jericho Saved on 10/30/07, 6:25 PM said...

Who needs media people? You've convinced me to be my own fake. I can be Fake Jane & my blog will be fake Jericho news. Who's going to call me on it? They can't prove I'm fake. I could catch a huge Buzz and there's no way to measure fake so you & I can just Buzz along and leave Real Rich covered in Buzz Dust.

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