By Brad Friedman on 10/26/2007, 11:42am PT  

"FEMA has truly learned the lessons of Katrina," writes Al Kamen at Washington Post today. "Even its handling of the media has improved dramatically. For example, as the California wildfires raged Tuesday, Vice Adm. Harvey E. Johnson, the deputy administrator, had a 1 p.m. news briefing."

The presser, he writes, was carried live on Fox "News", MSNBC and others and went very well...

Very smooth, very professional. But something didn't seem right. The reporters were lobbing too many softballs. No one asked about trailers with formaldehyde for those made homeless by the fires. And the media seemed to be giving Johnson all day to wax on and on about FEMA's greatness.

Of course, that could be because the questions were asked by FEMA staffers playing reporters.

Un. Believable.

"We were expecting the press to come," admitted Mike Widomski, FEMA's Deputy Director of Public Affairs and one of the first "reporters" to ask a question. "But," writes Kamen, "they didn't. So the staff played reporters for what on TV looked just like the real thing."

"If the worst thing that happens to me in this disaster is that we had staff in the chairs to ask questions that [Widomski claims] reporters had been asking all day," Widomski told Kamen, "trust me, I'll be happy."

The "worst thing"?! Hell, that one'll likely win you a Medal of Honor, Mike! "Be happy" indeed! And keep up the bad work!

Think Progress has video of Fox's coverage of FEMA's fake news conference.

UPDATE: White House apologizes. Says it'll never ever ever happen again...

UPDATE 10/28/07: We thought we were kidding with that "Medal of Honor" crack. But it looks like the guy who set up the phony presser has now been promoted! Details here...

UPDATE 10/29/07: Promotion planned has now been retracted. Details at same RAW STORY link as above.