The fake October news conference held by the Federal Emergency Management Agency was not the first time a Homeland Security public affairs official has acted like a reporter by asking questions during a briefing.
In January 2006, an official with Immigration and Customs Enforcement asked a question during a news conference in San Antonio, Texas, according to an investigation by the Homeland Security Department — the parent agency of both FEMA and ICE.
The ICE public affairs official was standing with about 12 reporters but did not identify herself when she posed the question, Homeland Security's head of public affairs, J. Edward Fox, wrote in a Nov. 19 letter to the chairman of the House Homeland Security committee. The government employee was verbally reprimanded for asking the question after the news conference, Fox told Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss.
Unlike the recent FEMA incident, Fox said the ICE public affairs official was advised against asking the question, but asked anyway and did not identify herself as staff. San Antonio reporters knew she was a public affairs official at the time.
On Oct. 23, reporters were given 15 minutes' notice for what turned into a staged question-and-answer briefing with FEMA's deputy administrator about the California fires. 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. The White House and department officials criticized the fake briefing. Two top FEMA public affairs officials resigned after the incident. Fox told Thompson that reforms to FEMA's external affairs are already under way.