October 30, 2007

When "Brownie" Meets "Jeffie"

By Mary Lyon

As a retired journalist, let me just say - I've gotta hand it to these people. As my late mother would have said, "they have more nerve than the guy who ate the first oyster." "They" in this case are our friends at the "new-and-improved" FEMA.

Okay. So "Karen Ryan reporting from Washington ," Armstrong Williams, and Jeff Gannon from "Talon News" aren't in our faces anymore. I suspect that's merely because their covers were all blown several years ago, rendering them no longer useful to the powers that be. Many of us are now savvy to those sneaky perception-manipulation strategies: a government-hired fake "reporter" producing canned "reports" in service to a policy agenda; to feed out to unsuspecting stations without the budgets to support their own D.C. staffers; a hand-picked, already sympathetic talking-head shill who's put on the payroll to do friendly interviews with designated Cabinet officials (with axes to grind); and a pretend White House "correspondent" from a pretend Capitol Hill "news outlet" that's nothing more than another tentacle in an ungodly octopus of calculated GOP propaganda. These stealth operatives were exposed and put out of business.

Or so we thought.

We've now seen that perpetration of fraud extended to the spokespeople for another federal agency - the one that supposedly exists to help you and other calamity victims out of a really serious and overwhelming jam. We're told that FEMA officials were breathlessly anxious to prove to the public that they'd learned their lessons from the disgraceful federal handling of the Hurricane Katrina aftermath and were absolutely on top of everything regarding the ferocious California wildfires. They were in such a hurry to strut their stuff that they called a "press conference" with a scant 15 minutes notice, to take "questions" from "reporters." Fifteen minutes on the average day in any big city is hardly time enough to get the car out of the parking lot, let alone make it to some hastily-called meeting across town. Instead of describing at length, and with at least some credibility, how effectively they were helping Southern California fire victims, they wound up stepping in it again. The "reporters" asking quest ions of FEMA's deputy administrator, Vice Admiral Harvey Johnson were actually a handful of FEMA insiders.

No genuine journalists attended, although they were given a conference call number they could use to listen in -- but not ask questions. A half-dozen questions were asked at the event -- by FEMA staff members posing as reporters.

''At the end of the briefing, questions were asked. I should have intervened and I didn't,'' Philbin said.

The "Philbin" in this case could well have been Regis Philbin for the ridiculously comic tone this mishap took on. Rather, it was John P. "Pat" Philbin, FEMA's external affairs director, who would by now have been working at his new job - public affairs director for Mike McConnell, the Director of National Intelligence. That job was likely put on hold because of a demonstrable lack of intelligence on the part of this Philbin boob.

How could this happen? Michael "Brownie, you're doin' a heckuva job" Brown was nowhere to be found. For heaven's sakes, we even had the "Terminator" pitching in here. We had a cast of thousands. Special appearances were made comparatively quickly by George himself. Tagging along were presidential wannabe/testosterone-obsessed/tough-love expert Duncan Hunter and the pathetic Darrell Issa. Issa could perhaps be commended for impressively not crying like a spoiled three-year-old while watching Arnold Schwarzenegger doing his governor's thing (the job Issa coveted so desperately he personally helped to bankroll a recall effort against then-Governor Gray Davis, whom Arnold went on to unseat). And there were brief sightings of competence in the form of California Lt. Governor John Garamendi and, to a lesser extent, Senator Dianne Feinstein.

There are a couple of possible explanations for this beyond the simple excuses offered by Philbin and friends. First, it could well be that, this late in the Bush/Cheney game, we have mass quantities of third- and fourth-string players handling the big jobs, because most of the A-listers have bailed by now. Any doubts about that can be viewed any day of the week when the hapless lightweight Tony Snow-replacement Dana Perino stumbles and stutters her way through another of her White House Press Briefings. Of course, with an agency like FEMA being as highly-regarded as it clearly is by this administration, the bottom-rungers are evidently still running the place long after "Brownie," the original Lord of the Lightweights, bowed out.

What's a lot more probable is that they tried to pull another fast one simply because they just assumed they could. After all, that IS how it's been done around the Bush administration from the get-go. These people simply got used to doing business like this - by cavalierly and recklessly cutting every corner they came across. We've seen a track record within this White House over almost seven years of sneaking around behind closed doors, doing whatever the operatives damned well pleased regardless of rules and regs, tradition, previous standard operating procedures, or such "quaint" impediments as the law and the Constitution of the United States . They've always done whatever they wanted with no questioning, accountability, or meaningful consequences, and who cares what you think? After all, remember - they're "an empire now," and they're just, well, entitled.

In those heady months building up to the War-Based-on-Lies, New York Times columnist Ron Suskind made some remarks about then-White House Communications Director Karen Hughes. These bothered the administration. So a senior official (Karl Rove?) took Suskind to task, and as Suskind recounted later in an October 17, 2004 NYT piece, mocked him for being "in what we call the reality-based community."

These are people, the official elaborated, who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." The bullying Bush insider warned against such belief, dismissing it as naïve: "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he declared. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality, we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors ... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

That quote, of course, originally applied to this administration's view of itself as master of the world based strictly on its own arrogant assertion of same. But I think it's more than a view specifically of foreign policy. It's an attitude that has had almost seven years to metastasize throughout every square millimeter of the Bush kingdom. It's sheer arrogance of the haughtiest kind. It's a "because we can" philosophy - by the power of some sort of "divine right." And it's continued up til this very day with a single exception: when someone gets caught.

And here, again, they got caught. Homeland Security czar Michael Chertoff harrumphed about how dumb and inappropriate it was. And many a pundit, news reporter, and anchor, indignantly slammed this sloppy, ill-conceived affront. Well, certainly it was all those things, negligent, deliberate, thoughtless, automatic, imperious, and more. But unless it was exposed, we'd somehow still be led to believe by government AND the lapdog press that everything was on the up-n-up and the Bush crowd had seen the error of its ways. Yeah. Sure. That's the ticket.

It doesn't matter how many B-teamers or C-teamers or even D-teamers have replaced the original "Brownies." That overriding superiority-complex philosophy still reigns. And as long as it does, and as long as those running our country are true believers in this style of governance, Karen Ryan, Armstrong Williams, Jeff Gannon and so many other deception-brokers will continue to serve us all poorly by playing fast and loose with the truth. Until and unless they get caught, they still can. Especially since they still think they can.


Mary Lyon is a veteran broadcaster and five-time Golden Mike Award winner who has anchored, reported, and written for the Associated Press Radio Network, NBC Radio "The Source," and many Los Angeles-area stations including KRTH-FM/AM, KLOS-FM, KFWB-AM, and KTLA-TV, and occasional media analyst for ABC Radio News.  Mary began her career as a liberal activist with the Student Coalition for Humphrey / Muskie in 1968 and helped spearhead a regional campaign, The Power 18, to win the right to vote for 18-year-olds. She remains an advocate for liberal causes, responsibility and accountability in media, environmental education and support of the arts for children, and green living. Mary writes for,, World News Trust, and's We! Magazine. Mary is also a parenting expert, having written and illustrated the book "The Frazzled Working Woman's Practical Guide to Motherhood."

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