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The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

FEMA, something’s missing

Recently, we here at The Guilfordian received the following letter,

“Dear Guilfordian,

First of all, as an impartial reader, I would like to congratulate you on the consistent quality of your publication. Your articles are all clearly well-researched and written. I especially admire the authenticity and trustworthiness of The Guilfordian. Anyway, I was wondering, could one of the fine young writers at The Guilfordian share their thoughts on FEMA’s recent press conference at which employees posed as reporters?

An anonymous reader who has no connection with the paper”

That’s a great question, Josh Cohen. For those who don’t know, on Tuesday, Oct. 23, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), held a press conference to take questions relating to their handling of the California wildfires.

Considering how busy FEMA was at the time, it was very gracious of them to organize a last-minute press conference at which Vice Adm. Harvey E. Johnson, FEMA’s deputy administrator, answered questions.

Those present asked the usual questions, “Are you happy with FEMA’s response?” “Can you address a little bit what it means to have the president issue an emergency declaration as opposed to a major-disaster declaration?” “What’s it like to be the head of such an awesome government agency?” “Will you go out with me?”

You know, the important questions. Johnson took these hard-hitting inquiries in stride, giving the people the information they wanted to know. He gave complete disclosure about how FEMA didn’t screw up this time.

It all went really well, so imagine Johnson’s surprise when journalists started complaining about it.

It’s not really FEMA’s fault that 15 minutes’ notice wasn’t enough for the lazy Washington media. Granted, it is a little unusual to hold a press conference without any press, but they got the conference part down, right?

When no reporters showed up after 15 minutes, FEMA really didn’t have a choice. Having FEMA employees pretend to be reporters and ask their boss questions was the only thing to do. They couldn’t just cancel the press conference, not after making a promise.

A lot of people, such as FEMA head David Paulison, had a problem with this press conference. They claim there is something wrong with giving the press fifteen minutes notice and a phone number at which they can listen to the conference, but not ask questions.

Paulison said the press conference, arranged by FEMA’s director of external affairs, Pat Philbin, was “a breach of ethical practice that tore at the credibility of FEMA, the deputy administrator and that of their own office.”

It’s easy to focus on the negative aspects of this, like the dishonesty and deceit. Sure, you could claim that it shows complete contempt for the media and maybe even the American people. But look at the positive aspects.

In a traditional press conference, one at which the press is present, all kinds of things could go wrong. Some reporter might ask a question that the official is not prepared for. That just makes everyone look bad. The official holding the conference looks either uninformed or dishonest, and the reporter looks like a big bully. Or they might ruin the mood by asking some real downer question, one without an uplifting answer.

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Jeff Jeske, Dana professor of English and certainly not the faculty advisor to The Guilfordian. “I wish I’d thought of it. Classes would go much smoother without any students.”

A press-less conference is easier to organize, can be held within a few minutes of being announced, and leaves everyone feeling much better about the way things are going. I wouldn’t be surprised if it caught on in other branches of government.

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