FEMA Order Surfaces for Full Media ‘Blackout’ of Maui Disaster Images

Following the Maui fire disaster, there have been concerns of mishandling and a lack of transparency, with claims of media restrictions on the island.

The current media landscape seems determined to maintain a positive image of Joe Biden, especially evident in the coverage of the Hawaii incident. Two significant aspects underscore this narrative.

Firstly, there’s President Biden’s perceived aloofness, marked by his repeated “no comment” replies to early queries and frequent vacations during this crisis. His recent visit to Maui only magnified his public relations challenges. Secondly, there are concerns about the local administration’s measures, or lack thereof, which may have exacerbated the situation. Issues like an unutilized warning system, queries about the fire’s initial containment, and an alleged delay by a water management official in redirecting water to combat the flames, are notable.

Among this muffled media landscape comes an anonymous tip: A reported FEMA letter dated August 19, 2023 that urges an official media blackout on new disaster footage.

“A person wishing to stay anonymous has sent me this email by FEMA sent to their nonprofit who is headed to Maui to help with disaster relief,” Anthony Cabasa reported. “They say they are being asked to STOP posting any images or videos while on the ground effective immediately.”

The August 19 letter reads:

“Out of respect for those who perished, we were asked by Maui County officials to pause on posting on social media and elsewhere new imagery of damage/disaster/debris starting now. They are asking for a full stop on disaster imagery going forward. At this time, we have not been asked to take any photos or video down. Our team on the ground is coordinating with the County for further guidance to ensure we remain fully aligned. Cultural sensitivity is of the utmost importance in all our response and recovery activities to this disaster.”

It was signed off on as Justin Angel Knighton, who is the Director of FEMA’s Office of External Affairs.

This squares with other reports, such as that given by Fox News’ Will Cain.

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“We believe we are the only national media in West Maui,” Cain said. “I haven’t see any other crews. And they tried to censor us and shut us down. ‘West Maui is a media free zone.’ We only got through the checkpoints because I’m a property owner in West Maui. They have this place on info lockdown from Waihee to Maalaea.”

“To be clear, there have been MANY amazing citizen journalists and local news like @MauiNOW is great,” he added. “But when you attempt to control information you sow the seed of conspiracy theory. You know a resource that’s missing in Maui: information.”

Nick Sortor is one such citizen journalist doing yeoman’s work shedding light on the deteriorating situation in Maui.

When Sortor was asked if the military ever mobilized to set up camps and supplies for survivors, his response was sobering.

“It’s essentially ALL volunteer and non-profit operations,” he said. “FEMA is doing practically nothing. Very frustrating.”

Nonetheless, FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell insists that she and Biden have been in close communication throughout the entire disaster response.

By Melinda Davies
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