Fact-Checking Politico, FEMA Chief on DeSantis and Hurricane Ian 

This week in Politics inaccurately reported remarks by FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell about Florida’s response to Hurricane Ian, but she also appeared to be inaccurate in saying that she hasn’t ever acted politically during a natural disaster.  

Criswell is the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) under the Biden Administration. He spoke Tuesday at the White House Press Briefing about the hurricane that was threatening Florida.  

Politico later changed some words in its story, but only after the inaccuracy had been cited during a Florida press conference as a way of criticizing the response of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, has been critical about President Joe Biden, a Democrat.  

Politico first reported:

Criswell acknowledged concerns about a lax response to storm warning from Floridians who have never experienced a hurricane in the stateAnd those who have previously experienced a ‘near-miss.’

But Criswell actually didn’t say anything during the White House press briefing about a “lax response,” according to televised and transcribedThe FEMA administrator made these remarks: 

I am concerned about complacency. We’re talking about impacts in a part of Florida that hasn’t seen a major direct impact in nearly 100 years. There’s also parts of Florida where there’s a lot of new residents that have never experienced this type of threat. … 

The most important thing is to listen to your local officials. The president instructed me to contact the governor for further information. [DeSantis]I did that, even before we made the declaration.  

My regional administrator is with the governor right now, making sure that we’re understanding what the needs are. Our focus is on the life safety needs that are currently being met. 

Later, Criswell was asked about “anything unusual or any challenges” in contacting local officials. 

“The communication that we have had with state officials has been excellent,” she replied.  

Politico’s reporting was so egregious that DeSantis responded to the news outlet’s article during his own press conference in Florida.  

A reporter asked about the FEMA administrator’s concern about the “lax response to the storm,” which Politico had attributed incorrectly to Criswell.  

DeSantis shot back: “That is nonsense.” 

“Stop politicizing it. Stop it. We declared a state of emergency when this thing wasn’t even formed,” DeSantis told the reporter, adding: 

You’ve had counties that have done a lot of hard work. You are trying to attack my country, I get that, but you are attacking other people who work hard. This is completely false. I don’t think we have ever–certainly since I’ve been governor–declared a state of emergency this early. 

On Twitter, the DeSantis War Room account wrote: “This reporter misrepresented FEMA Director’s words.” 

DeSantis War Room followed up with a tweet showing how Politico had changed its story’s wording. It said, “nice stealth editing guys.” 

Politico’s original report said:

Criswell acknowledged concerns about a lax response to storm warnings from Floridians who have never experienced a hurricane in the state and to those who have previously experienced a ‘near miss.’

This was changed by editors at Politico to:

Still, Criswell acknowledged concerns about Floridians not heading warnings, especially those who never experienced a hurricane in the state, and those who have previously experienced a ‘near miss.’

Before being named FEMA administrator by Biden, Criswell was commissioner of New York City’s Emergency Management Office for less than two years under Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat. An Air Force veteran, she previously worked at FEMA during the Obama administration. 

During the same White House press briefing, Criswell told reporters: “We do not bring politics into our ability to respond to these disasters.”  

DeSantis and FEMA administrator were not able to see eye-to-eye in an earlier year, when Criswell denied assistance for seniors who survived tornadoes. reported by The Center Square.   

On Jan. 16, tornadoes hit Florida’s Charlotte and Lee counties, destroying or severely damaging 158 homes. The majority of those affected were seniors.   

“DeSantis issued an executive order declaring a state of emergency for both counties and requested a major disaster declaration from the Biden administration. Florida offered aid through its Individual Assistance program and requested assistance from FEMA,” Center Square reported. “But FEMA denied Florida’s request.”  

In a letter to DeSantis, Criswell wrote that “the damage from this event was not of such severity and magnitude as to be beyond the capabilities of the state, affected local governments, and voluntary agencies.” 

“Accordingly,” the FEMA administrator wrote, “we have determined that supplemental federal assistance is not necessary.” 

Ken McIntyre contributed this report.

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