The How (But Not the Why) of FEMA's Fake News Conference

The Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA's) internal investigation into last month's fake news conference found that FEMA press secretary Aaron Walker "directed aides to pose as reporters, secretly coached them during the briefing and ended the event after a final, scripted question was asked," reports Spencer Hsu. Walker submitted his resignation this week, at FEMA chief R. David Paulison's request. "Six minutes before the briefing was to start, Walker sent an e-mail telling members of [FEMA's] external affairs staff to be prepared to fill chairs and 'to spur discussion' in the absence of reporters. Walker specifically told Mike Widomski, deputy director of public affairs, which question to ask first and assigned press aide Ali Kirin to ask a sixth and final question. Off camera, Walker encouraged staff members in the room to continue asking questions, even as he pretended to cut off discussion, interjecting at one point, 'Two more questions.'" FEMA deputy director Harvey Johnson, who gave the fake briefing, said "he does not recall being advised that staff would be asking questions." Walker "did not apologize for his actions and said he had planned since September to leave FEMA to seek private-sector work in Utah."


Wouldn't it be interesting to read FEMA's self-investigation of its fake news conference. Don't hold your breath. From [ PR Week]:

"In the field, almost all the external affairs officers have journalism backgrounds, but at [FEMA] HQ, I don't think anybody does," [William "Russ" Knocke, FEMA's acting head of external communications,] said. "You're dealing in ethics and journalistic practices, and we have a staff where a number don't have that training in journalism."

The agency is now exploring professional development partnerships with groups such as PRSA [the Public Relations Society of America].

The review will "not necessarily" be made public, but its findings will be used to help strengthen internal communications practices, Knocke said.