The Pentagon’s efforts to spin news of its response to the emergency in Puerto Rico in a positive light were revealed when a reporter was erroneously added to its internal email list.
Bloomberg climate reporter Christopher Flavelle claimed he was added to an internal email list in September, which revealed the government’s efforts to frame its response to the disaster in Puerto Rico caused by Hurricane Maria in a good way.
Although Flavelle alerted officials to the mishap, for five days he continued to receive the unclassified emails, which he said offer “a glimpse into the federal government’s struggle to convince the public that the response effort was going well.”
After the government began getting heat for failing to respond to the emergency, an email from September 28 advised spokespeople to avoid speaking about waiting on instructions from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), as “that goes against the teamwork topline message,” Bloomberg reports.
It told staff to highlight the “coverage of life-saving/life-sustaining operations.”
When news broke of San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz’s speech criticizing the government, and US President Donald Trump, for spinning the reality on the ground in Puerto Rico, the government advice on FEMA talking points was to ignore the mayor’s comments, and instead say, “the federal government’s full attention is on Hurricane Maria response.”
When President Trump then attacked Cruz’s “poor leadership ability,” the Pentagon expressed concern that his statements were becoming the story and that people were “criticizing his lack of empathy.”
The government message was for FEMA to stress its success in reaching “all municipalities” in Puerto Rico.
After Trump described critics of the response as “politically motivated ingrates,” the government told spokespeople to say, “I am very proud of our DoD forces,” and to concede “there are some challenges to work through.”
Following the massacre in Las Vegas on October 2, government communications pointed to the fact that the tragedy had “drawn mainstream TV attention away from Puerto Rico response.”