It looked like any other Washington press briefing, with a public affairs official walking up to a podium, introducing a government official and kicking off a press conference.
But what happened next raised the ire of the news media and ticked off Bush administration officials.
Tuesday the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced it was holding a news conference to answer reporters’ questions about the federal agency’s emergency response to the Southern California wildfires.
The agency gave reporters just 15 minutes notice to attend, and those members of the media who called in via phone lines could listen to the event but were not able to ask questions.
FEMA’s Deputy Administrator Harvey Johnson conducted the event like a regular press briefing, assuring those in attendance that FEMA — the agency that performed so poorly in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina — was responding well to the disaster in Southern California.
“The report basically is that were doing a fine, doing a pretty good job,” Johnson told the audience.
The event went smoothly. That is, until the news media discovered that the press conference wasn’t exactly a press conference at all.