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FEMA: One More Obama Scandal for the Media to Obscure

March 23, 2015


Why is it that the media almost always want to distance President Obama from the various scandals occurring during his presidency? It is as if he has nothing to do with the people he has appointed to run the various federal agencies, and no responsibility for their incompetence or corruption. Here is but the latest example:

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is reviewing insurance claims for 144,000 New York and New Jersey victims of Superstorm Sandy. The storm, which was actually Hurricane Sandy, hit the U.S. coast near Atlantic City, New Jersey, on October 29, 2012. This FEMA review was prompted by lawsuits, an ongoing criminal inquiry, and news reporting that exposed the systematic, corrupt low-balling of homeowners by insurance companies working with FEMA. “They [FEMA] probably orchestrated the whole thing,” one victim, Doug Quinn, told CBS News. “A Sandy task force is being formed to evaluate the nation’s flood insurance program,” it reports.

The media would likely have treated this as a front-page scandal under George W. Bush’s leadership.

Relegating this news to page A25, The New York Times, on March 12, reported that insurance and engineering firms “have noted that there is little financial incentive to cheat.” The fact is that, “the money that is paid out ultimately comes from FEMA, not the insurance companies,” wrote David W. Chen, and the “flood insurance program…penalizes insurers for overpaying claims but not for underpaying them.” 

Deborah Ramey and her husband Robert Kaible lost the home they rented out in Long Beach, NY due to Superstorm Sandy’s sand and floodwater damage. Although the house was valued at $205,000, they were offered just $60,000 for it before it was demolished because the insurance company concluded that long-term forces had caused the damage, not the storm.

However, when the insurer “agreed to send an engineer to take another look,” it made the mistake of sending out the same engineer who wrote the original report, according to Catherine Dunn of the International Business Times. That engineer had originally concluded that Superstorm Sandy, not long-term deterioration, was responsible for the destruction.

The engineer, George Hernemar, allowed Kaible to take cell phone photos of portions of his original, undoctored report in order to confront the insurer. In the end, they received just $79,000, demolished the house and sold it at a loss. The couple’s plea for relief from the courts is one of about 2,000 such lawsuits.

Steve Mostyn, who represents the couple, obtained a sample of 250 engineering reports from one such engineering firm, U.S. Forensic, and claims that all but two reports were identical, according to Dunn. Mostyn told “60 Minutes” that he began looking for a common denominator in the reports to understand why nearly all of the engineering companies’ reports were exactly the same. “And in this case, all of those companies are overseen by FEMA…” added CBS correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi. “More than 5 million homeowners living in designated flood zones all around the country are required to buy flood insurance policies backed by FEMA and taxpayer money.”

When “60 Minutes” covered this unfolding debacle earlier this month, it demonstrated the show’s best strengths and greatest weakness. In its damning investigative story about how insurance companies and the government conspired—or at least joined together—to deceive and abuse their clients, CBS also couldn’t help itself. It, like other news organizations, chose to politicize the story by conspicuously leaving out any mention of politics or administration accountability.

Alfonsi, the “60 Minutes” reporter, spoke with FEMA’s Brad Kieserman, the Deputy Associate Administrator for Insurance, who had been on the job for about three weeks at the time he was interviewed. In that time, Kieserman had uncovered fraudulent activity, warning signs reaching back to 2013, and said he referred the issue to the Inspector General. Now, the Times reports, FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program head David Miller has resigned and a top deputy has retired.

The media are apparently not interested in looking any higher than mid-level management for accountability. As with so many other instances, such as the IRS and Veterans Affairs scandals, the media prefer to minimize the fallout for the Obama administration. Both the “60 Minutes” broadcast and The New York Times failed to mention President Obama, current Department of Homeland Security (which FEMA falls under) Secretary Jeh Johnson, former Secretary Janet Napolitano, or the administration in general.

This constitutes a deliberate omission by these news outlets. Such hypocritical reporting also serves to shelter the administration from the type of shellacking meted out to President Bush over Hurricane Katrina.

“So I want to repeat—my message to the federal government: No bureaucracy, no red tape. Get resources where they’re needed as fast as possible, as hard as possible, and for the duration [of Sandy],” said President Obama on October 30, 2012, in the midst of his reelection campaign.

Even National Public Radio is blasting FEMA’s actions toward Sandy victims, reporting this week that “In fact, FEMA's appeals process almost never works in favor of homeowners. According to interviews with insurance insiders, FEMA’s appeals process is a ‘joke’ and ‘rigged’ in favor of insurance companies.” And just like CBS’s “60 Minutes,” NPR never mentions a word about President Obama, or Jeh Johnson. Instead, it’s just this faceless bureaucracy, FEMA, that is to blame.

FEMA, along with the IRS, Veterans Affairs and the Secret Service, are all agencies run by political appointees of President Obama, but no one in the media seems to want to hold the President or his appointees responsible. Why? They’ve spent nearly eight years covering for him. They’re certainly not going to stop now.

Copyright ©2015

Roger Aronoff is the Editor of Accuracy in Media, and a member of the Citizens’ Commission on Benghazi. He can be contacted at roger.aronoff@aim.org.

 


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