Many of you must be following the story out of DC. John Philbin, head of
FEMA public relations staged a news conference last week in which his own
employees posed as news reporters in the audience so they might ask rather anemic
questions on how FEMA behaved during the recent devastation of
Southern California fires. I am working from two sources on this story: 1. Victor Landa’s column in the San Antonio Express News, Sunday, 4 November (p.3H) and a recent NPR report in which I listened to a good portion of the “news conference.”
Seems Philbin had a “lapse of good judgment” when he decided to call a news
conference 15 minutes before it happened so that reporters sipping coffee in
the next room, much less cross town, could not make it; consolation prize: they
could listen in but not participate from remote access tvs. As FEMA failed in
New Orleans, now Philbin was determined to have them
Caught with his microphone down, Philbin quickly apologized. Here is Victor Landa on the event: “Philbin admitted he sould have canceled the conference when no journalist showed. But he positioned his decision, saying he ‘did not have good situational-awareness of what was happening.’” WHA? Doublespeak is alive and healthy at FEMA.
But the problem is deeper, more systemic: when the reality you need is not forthcoming on the horizon, then create it and treat it as “the really real.” Whether it be weapons that do not exist, terrorists themselves that are bogus, chimerical, fantasms, statistics pulled from some laundry basket, news conferences that might more truly be called Promos for an organization, reality is what one can create, or perhaps even make of it.
Compared to the recent trend in our culture, SPIN begins to look like gospel truth. At least spin had the integrity–at least some times–to be vaguely connected to the real. Now, the new drift is to what the cultural critic Jean Baudrillard in Simulacra and Simulation saw as the manufacture of culture, ex nihilo. For me, it is ex jigilo, even ex jingilo. Give folks the jingle, then let them try to refute the reality under fire.
In the film Wallstreeet, Michael Douglas, as a titan of financial duplicity created the prayer Greed is Good. To which Philbin and associates might be new ambassadors for Fake is Good; Fabrication is Good.
Now once this new Pandora’s box with the shiny lid is opened, sky is indeed the limit. No, the sky is far to close to us–the limit is even farther out. We have stepped up the pace in creating the reality that enhances policy, promises and every form of promiscuity imaginable.