Pentagon accidentally included reporter in Puerto Rico spin talks

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Officials at the Department of Defense and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) accidentally included a Bloomberg climate reporter on an internal email distribution list that included discussions on how to present Puerto Rico recovery efforts to the media. 

Bloomberg’s Christopher Flavelle said he repeatedly alerted officials at the Pentagon to the error but kept receiving emails for five days.

“Those messages, each of which was marked ‘unclassified,’ offer a glimpse into the federal government’s struggle to convince the public that the response effort was going well. That struggle was compounded by the commander-in-chief, and eased only when public attention was pulled to a very different disaster,” writes Flavelle in a Bloomberg story published Friday.


Flavelle goes on to share portions of the emails, which were sent between Sept. 28 and Oct. 2 and mainly focus on President Trump’s war of words with San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz over Hurricane Maria recovery efforts.

“Sept. 29: San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz criticizes Washington’s spin, calling Puerto Rico a ‘people-are-dying story,’ ” reads one passage. “The Government Message: FEMA talking points ignore Cruz, instructing its officials to say that ‘the federal government’s full attention is on Hurricane Maria response.’ “

Another from Oct. 2 shows concern over “negative tonality” of press coverage regarding the government’s efforts in Puerto Rico.

“Oct. 2: The massacre in Las Vegas dominates the headlines,” a portion of the email reads. 

On that date, Bloomberg reports “The Government Message” as, “The shooting ‘has drawn mainstream TV attention away from Puerto Rico response,’ FEMA says. Still, the roundup seems to have lost some of its previous optimism. It concludes, simply: ‘Negative tonality.’ “

The powerful hurricane hit Puerto Rico three weeks ago and most of the island still remains without power.

The death toll from the storm has risen to 45, with more than 100 people still unaccounted for, a spokesperson for Puerto Rico’s Department of Public Safety said.

Tags Department of Defense FEMA Hurricane Maria Puerto Rico

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