Revisiting 'Sharpiegate': Investigative panel says NOAA chief committed ethics violation in furor over Trump tweet

Revisiting 'Sharpiegate': Investigative panel says NOAA chief committed ethics violation in furor over Trump tweet
Image via Screengrab.

When President Donald Trump was fact-checked in 2019 after incorrectly reporting that Hurricane Dorian posed a major threat to Alabama, he never admitted that he had made a mistake. One of the people who backed Trump was Neil Jacobs, acting head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Jacobs rebuked employees for fact-checking Trump  — and a panel hired to investigate the matter, according to New York Times reporter Christopher Flavelle, has found that Jacobs committed an ethics violation by rebuking them.

Trump, on September 1, 2019, tweeted that Dorian would be hitting Alabama “harder than anticipated.” But the National Weather Service office in Birmingham, Alabama knew that Trump was wrong and tweeted, “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from Dorian. We repeat, no impacts from Hurricane Dorian will be felt across Alabama.”

Five days later, Jacobs’ office described that September 1 tweet as “inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time.”

Flavelle notes, “That unsigned statement turned out to be the result of pressure from the White House on Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees NOAA and who threatened to fire the political staff at NOAA unless the contradiction of Mr. Trump was addressed.”

In a report released on June 15, Stephen M. Volz (an assistant administrator at NOAA) clearly sided with the National Weather Service employees who fact-checked Trump. The NOAA, according to Volz, needed to protect “the right of NOAA scientists to review, comment and amend any official communication that relies on their scientific analysis.”

In other words, the duty of  NOAA and National Weather Service scientists is to report accurate information — not serve as Trump’s publicists.

Flavelle reported, “Mr. Volz also recommended that the agency create a formal agreement guiding interactions between NOAA and Department of Commerce officials, ‘acknowledging the responsibility for NOAA to own the scientific content and allowing for Commerce to weigh in on policy content.’ And he called for NOAA’s senior leadership and political officials ‘to take scientific integrity training’ and then sign a statement saying they would follow those principles.”

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