FEMA's website dropped updates on lack of power on the island to instead cheerlead the government's hurricane response.
In an apparent effort to dress up the United States’ hurricane recovery effort in Puerto Rico, FEMA’s website no longer posts figures that highlight how few people on the island have electricity, and how many people there still lack drinking water.
That vital information has suddenly been replaced with updates about how many more federal and FEMA workers are (belatedly) on the island, and the growing number of grocery stores that are open.
The move to hide important information coincides with the entire Trump administration’s ongoing effort to portray the slow-footed and controversial relief effort in Puerto Rico as a resounding success.
“People can’t believe how successful that has been, relatively speaking,” Donald Trump announced last week. During his strange trip to the island on Tuesday, Trump appeared almost giddy at Puerto Rico’s hurricane death toll, since it was so much lower than the 1,000-plus who died in Hurricane Katrina.
The FEMA move seems to be the latest, heavy-handed effort from the Trump administration as it tries to sell the relief response as a resounding success, but people aren’t buying it.
Just 33 percent of Americans approve of how Trump is handling disaster relief in the U.S. territory, while 49 percent disapprove, according to an Associated Press poll released this week. Those marks are noticeably lower than how Americans grade Trump on his handling of recent hurricanes that hit Texas and Florida: 48 percent approve of that, and just 27 percent disapprove.
A FEMA spokesperson would not explain to the Washington Post why updates about power and drinking water have been removed from FEMA’s site, but stressed the information is still available — on a Spanish language website maintained by Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, www.status.pr.
The propaganda transformation at the FEMA website has not been subtle.
“Earlier this week the FEMA site used to have an infographic about the recovery efforts, but that image has been replaced by a photo of helicopters delivering relief supplies and another of a Puerto Rican resident hugging a soldier,” Gizmodo notes.
If the Trump administration’s plan is to censor FEMA, it’s also going to have to censor all the other government agencies that are part of the relief effort and releasing information that may not be to the White House’s liking.
Note that last week, the Department of Defense issued a press release regarding the ongoing relief effort. While it mostly painted a promising picture for the island and touted America’s response, some bad news did slip through: “Ninety-five percent of customers remain without power.”
That’s precisely the type of information that FEMA has now stripped from its website.
UPDATE: Following a crescendo of criticism, FEMA announced Friday afternoon that, “to avoid any further confusion,” it would revert to its previous practice, and include information about the number of Puerto Ricans without power and without access to healthy drinking water in the wake of Hurricane Maria.