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That FEMA Thing? It Was a Setup. Any More Questions?

<b>In the Room:</b> A look at the 'reporters' in FEMA's fake briefing.
In the Room: A look at the 'reporters' in FEMA's fake briefing. (FEMA image)

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By Al Kamen
Wednesday, November 14, 2007

FEMA's internal investigation into its infamous phony news conference is over, but the topic is sure to come up when acting Deputy Administrator Harvey Johnson goes to the Senate for his confirmation hearing. (His name mysteriously failed to make the Senate hearing list last week, however.) Administrator R. David Paulison has strongly defended Johnson, saying he was "set up" by horrific staff work.

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Johnson himself has said he could not recall whether he was told that staffers would ask him questions. But two career employees signed statements saying that press secretary Aaron Walker said he told Johnson or was going to tell Johnson beforehand. And during the news conference, Johnson called on questioners by name.

Asked about this by our colleague Spencer Hsu, Paulison praised Johnson's work at FEMA and said former agency external affairs chief John P. Philbin "literally grabbed Harvey and took him into the press room." Paulison added: "There was no time for Harvey to know anything. . . . It was not intentional, but he was set up and he walked in there and he didn't know everyone in the room."

It might be instructive to look at things from Johnson's perspective. He's in a very small briefing room, looking out at perhaps a dozen people, all from FEMA. He sees several whom he knows by first name because they work directly for him. Most are conveniently sitting in the front row as they lob one softball after another so he can praise FEMA's work.

How could he know anything was amiss?

There were lots of clues. Real reporters -- at least ink-stained ones -- don't wear such nice suits. Real reporters rudely interrupt one another. Real reporters ask snarky questions. Real reporters take notes.

Well, maybe he was distracted.

Oh, Well. Duty Calls.

Still looking for a fine trip during the upcoming Thanksgiving break? Already been to Brazil? No problem. Freshman Rep. Albio Sires (D-N.J.), the 25th-ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has a week-long trip to Greece and Cyprus on tap the week after Thanksgiving.

Of course you'll be going on a military jet -- effectively your own private plane and staff -- to Athens, staying at the lovely Hotel Grande Bretagne, which styles itself as "surely the most luxurious establishment in Greece," with a terrific rooftop restaurant and view of the city.

The "notional itinerary" we received last week included a tour of the Acropolis, but no visits to the islands, particularly Santorini, one of the most beautiful places in the world, which sits in the crystal-blue waters of the Aegean Sea and a place any good public-policy maker would have to see in order to understand the region.

There is no visit to the new museum built to house the Elgin Marbles that the Brits stole those many years ago and have yet to return. There's not even a stop to chat with the Oracle of Delphi.

Cyprus features touring of some historic sites and a trip to the ghost town of Famagusta, abandoned since the 1974 Turkish invasion and one of the more bizarre places on Earth.

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