Normally you wouldn’t think that USGS scientists would need to get permission before being interviewed by the media. But the Trump administration is apparently doing just that:
LA TIMES – A new directive from the Trump administration instructs federal scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey to get approval from its parent agency before agreeing to most interview requests from reporters, according to employees and emails from officials with the Department of the Interior and USGS.
USGS employees who spoke with The Times on condition of anonymity because they were unauthorized to do so say the new protocol represents a dramatic change in decades of past media practices at the scientific agency and will interfere with scientists’ ability to quickly respond to reporters’ questions. They expected that taxpayers would see less of the USGS’ scientific expertise as reporters seek scientific comment elsewhere.
The new protocol also permits the Department of the Interior’s communications office to reject interview requests on scientific matters.
A deputy press secretary for the Department of the Interior, Faith Vander Voort, wrote in an email that “the characterization that there is any new policy or that it for some reason targets scientists is completely false.” She said the Department of the Interior’s communications office “simply asked” the USGS public affairs office to follow media guidelines published in 2012 during the Obama administration. Vander Voort did not answer a question as to what prompted the change in media protocol.
The 10-page media manual says that the Department of the Interior’s communications office “must be notified” ahead of media interviews that “may generate significant news coverage, public interest or inquiry.” The manual, however, does not say that agency employees must get clearance or approval before responding to a reporter.
The manual also states that the department “supports a culture of openness with the news media and the public that values the free exchange of ideas, data and information.”
Documents reviewed by The Times show that the Department of the Interior’s press secretary, Heather Swift, on April 25 sent an email saying that the standard protocol is “that interviews with a national outlet — such as the Washington Post, Discovery, NYT, The Atlantic, CNN, etc — go through approval. Additionally, topics that are either very controversial or that are likely to become a national story even if a regional reporter is asking (such as Houston Chronicle doing a story about an USGS employee discovering life on Mars) also go through approval.”
Considering all the leaks Trump has had to put up with during his administration and what we recently found out about in the IG report, I wonder if this is simply the administration trying to prevent more leaks.