Trump cabinet official threatened firings over weather service tweet contradicting the president: report
In the ongoing saga over President Donald Trump's humiliating refusal to back down from his false claim more than a week ago that Alabama was among the states most likely to be hit "harder than anticipated" by Hurricane Dorian, the New York Times broke a story Monday revealing just how serious the seemingly absurd incident has become.
According to the Times, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on Friday threatened to fire top officials in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration if they didn't retract a tweet from the Birmingham branch of the National Weather Service, a subsidiary agency, that had contradicted the president's false claim shortly after it was made.
That apparently led to the production of an unsigned statement from NOAA, which said that the NWS tweet "spoke in absolute terms that were inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time":
NOAA releases a Friday evening, unattributed statement disavowing the NWS Birmingham tweet from Sunday saying Doria… https://t.co/VpinLZlJtW— Allan Smith (@Allan Smith)1567804688.0
That statement did not acknowledge that Trump's claim was itself wildly inaccurate and inordinately panic-inducing, and the president himself has not explained why he later showed a falsified weather map that erroneously included Alabama in the storm's path. NOAA's statement also infuriated many scientific observers and experts on the agency, including the union chief for NWS staffers.
Many accused the agency of blatantly politicizing a scientific agency, to the detriment of its own integrity. And the Washington Post reported Monday that the NOAA's acting Chief Scientist Craig McLean said in an internal email that the response was "political" and that it "inappropriately and incorrectly contradicted the NWS forecaster." He said he is investigating the matter for "potential violations of our NOAA Administrative Order on Scientific Integrity."
The Times reported:
Mr. Ross, the Commerce Secretary, intervened two days later, early last Friday, according to the three people familiar with his actions. Mr. Ross phoned Neil Jacobs, the acting administrator of NOAA, from Greece where the secretary was traveling for meetings and instructed Dr. Jacobs to fix the agency’s perceived contradiction of the president.
Dr. Jacobs objected to the demand and was told that the political staff at NOAA would be fired if the situation was not fixed, according to the three individuals, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the episode. Unlike career government employees, political staff are appointed by the administration. They usually include a handful of top officials, such as Dr. Jacobs, and their aides.
The main point, it seems, was to save the president from embarrassment, rather than to get the facts straight.