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Never a Firing Offense: FEMA PR Frauds Move On and Up

October 28, 2007

One of the hallmarks of Bush administration has been its steadfast commitment to rewarding its own incompetence, fraud and even criminality. While Katrina fall-guy Michael Brown was quietly edged out, the leading architects of the fiasco in Iraq including George Tenet, Tommy Franks and Paul Bremer received Presidential Medals of Freedom. Now in the latest example of President Bush's mantra that "nothing succeeds like failure," Harvey Johnson has escaped punishment for his bogus FEMA press conference on Thursday, while his PR flack John Philbin is moving on to greener pastures at the office of the Director of National Intelligence.
Even by the standards of a Bush White House committed to using rented reporters, purchased pundits, rigged rallies, scripted sessions, fake news and pseudo-science to alter political debate and reality itself, FEMA's faux news conference was particularly ham-handed. Just a day after defending the White House's editing of a CDC report to Congress and praising the health benefits of global warming, Dana Perino claimed "It is not a practice that we would employ here at the White House or that we - we certainly don't condone it." Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Laura Keehner called Johnson's performance a "stunt" that was "inexcusable to the secretary."
The reaction of DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff is particularly telling - and comical. Chertoff, after all, told Americans in July he had a "gut feeling" that Al Qaeda would strike again in the U.S., just days before President Bush's interim Iraq surge progress report. Chertoff also played the blame the victim game as Hurricane Katrina swamped both New Orleans and his beleagured FEMA. "The critical thing was to get people out of there before the disaster," Chertoff said on September 1, 2005, adding, "Some people chose not to obey that order. That was a mistake on their part."
And yet even a bungler of historical proportions as Chertoff was moved to criticize (though not punish) his own FEMA team for its dalliance with staged news. As the Washington Post reported Saturday:

"I think it was one of the dumbest and most inappropriate things I've seen since I've been in government," Michael Chertoff said.
"I have made 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 extraordinarily poor judgment," he added.
Asked specifically if he planned to fire anyone at FEMA, which is part of his department, Chertoff declined to say, citing personnel rules. "There will be appropriate discipline."

For his part, Admiral Harvey Johnson, the FEMA deputy administrator, offered the usual Republican unpology his premeditated effort to deceive the American people. In a statement Friday, Johnson reduced his agency's Goebbelsesque disinformation scheme to an ill-timed fart:

"We are reviewing our press procedures and will make the changes necessary to ensure that all of our communications are straight forward and transparent...We can and must do better, and apologize for this error in judgment."

Meanwhile, Director of External Affairs John Philbin, the PR point-man for Johnson's fraud, has resigned from FEMA to take on a new role at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. (His resignation apparently pre-dated Thursday's sham press conference.) With no apparent sense of irony, Philbin declared Friday:

"It was absolutely a bad decision. I regret it happened. Certainly...I should have stopped it. I hope readers understand we're working very hard to establish credibility and integrity, and I would hope this does not undermine it."

For his impersonation of Baghdad Bob, Saddam's former Minister of Information, Philbin wasn't shown the door, but instead got a move up the ladder. Philbin will now bring his skills to bear for Michael McConnell, the Director of National Intelligence. There, he can help his boss the DNI perfect new deceptions and false claims, such as the bogus assertions that new FISA rules were central to breaking up the German terror plot or expanded surveillance powers are needed to prevent kidnappings of U.S. troops in Iraq.
And so it goes with the Bush administration's ethos of rewarding wrong-doing. There are no firing offenses. The merely embarrassing or inconvenient, such as Michael Brown or Paul O'Neill, are quietly shunted aside. The actions are Bush loyalists are glossed over, as in the Johnson case, or as with prosecutor purge figure Sara Taylor, are rewarded with high-paying posts in reliably Republican lobbying firms. And for those who know the most and share responsibility with the President for the calamities most damaging to the United States, they get a medal from Bush himself.


About

Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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