By: Ankita Kulkarni
August 31 2023
The news broadcast in the video dates back to 2007 when FEMA admitted to staging a press conference on wildfires in California. It is not recent.
What's the claim?
A series of wildfires in Maui, an island in the U.S. state of Hawaii (spelled Hawai'i by locals), has led to several false and misleading claims being shared on social media. FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) has also been at the center of misinformation surrounding the disaster. A post on X (formerly Twitter) included a clip of an MSNBC news broadcast reporting on a fake press conference held by the agency. The text on the video says, "FEMA CAUGHT," and the caption reads, "FEMA Caught Faking Maui Press Conference." The archive posts can be found here and here.
Screengrabs of claims made online (Source: X/@blogger_african, @AutredameN)
However, the video is almost sixteen years old and has been miscaptioned.
What we found
Research showed us that the viral video is from a 2007 news broadcast about FEMA admitting to staging a press conference in 2007 on the California wildfires. This is now being misrepresented as a conference on wildfires in Maui.
We found the same footage posted on YouTube by Media Monarchy on October 27, 2007. The YouTube channel uploaded the MSNBC broadcast with the description, "On Tuesday, FEMA held what was called a "news briefing" on the California fires, but the questions asked did not come from reporters. They were asked instead by FEMA staffers."
The MSNBC report included responses from the White House and the Department of Homeland Security on the incident. We can hear Dana Perino, then the White House press secretary during the administration of President George W. Bush, saying, "It is not a practice that we would employ here at the White House, and we certainly don't condone it." She adds, "FEMA has issued an apology, saying that they had an error in judgment when they were attempting to try to get out a lot of information to reporters who are asking for answers to a variety of questions in regards to the wildfires in California." The broadcast also shows an apology issued by the Department of Homeland Security, assuring, "It won't happen again."
A comparison of the viral video and the MSNBC news broadcast from 2007 (Source: X/@JackMedia7, YouTube/@Media Mornarcy)
Dana Perino says "wildfires in California" in her speech. According to the information from U.S. Department of Commerce, a series of wildfires in 2007 across Southern California destroyed at least 1,500 homes and burned 500,000 acres of land from Santa Barbara County to the U.S.-Mexico border.
We corroborated this with a report by the New York Times published on October 30, 2007, which noted that the staged press conference held on October 23, 2007, was about California fires, where staff members pretended to be reporters asking easy questions for the deputy administrator and vice administrator. It adds that the reporters were given notice about the conference only 15 minutes before, and later, telephone lines were set up, which allowed reporters only to listen and not question. The event went on with no reporters and only television camera crews. It also quoted John P. Philbin, former FEMA public relations chief, stating in one of the interviews that "there had been no intention to deceive the public, just a desire to get information out quickly."
CBS News also included some images from the conference where the attendees were identified as FEMA staff.
The recent press conferences on the Maui wildfires on August 14 and 16 by Deanne Criswell, FEMA administrator, included media personnel. Criswell responded to the question posed by media houses such as CBS News, ABC News, and the Associated Press (AP).
The above evidence establishes that the viral video is old and does not depict the news conference on the Maui wildfires.
The video shows a staged press conference held by FEMA in 2007 on California wildfires, which is now re-circulating about recent wildfires in Maui. The video has been incorrectly attributed and miscaptioned. Therefore, we have marked the claim as misleading.