Knight First Amendment Institute Sues The CDC For Failing To Provide Details Of Its Media Gag Order

from the silence-is-a-bad-idea dept

We’ve talked quite a bit about the importance of clear and transparent government during the COVID-19 pandemic, and how China’s (ongoing) refusal to allow for people to speak out almost certainly contributed to the pandemic becoming even worse. And now the same situation has been showing up across the US as well. We’ve talked about hospitals firing doctors and nurses for speaking out about supply shortages, and now there’s news that the US Navy fired the captain of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, Brett Crozier, after he sent his bosses a letter pleading for help as COVID-19 was spreading throughout his crew. Rather than recognize that he was pleading for help, they fired him… because his letter got out to the media and it made them look bad.

The Navy fired the captain of the USS Theodore Roosevelt on Thursday, four days after he pleaded for help as the coronavirus ravaged his crew, the Navy announced.

Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly announced that Navy Capt. Brett Crozier was relieved for loss of confidence.

“I just know that he exercised extremely poor judgment,” Modly said.

But, perhaps the worst of all appears to be the gag order on actual infectious disease experts within the US government. Back in late February, when VP Mike Pence was first put officially in charge of responding to the COVID-19 threat, it was quickly reported that the White House had put in place a media gag order on all government officials, saying that all communication had to go through Pence’s office. Indeed, various media appearances were cancelled by top CDC officials.

In response to this, the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia had sent a detailed FOIA request asking for any records regarding policies and procedures governing public communications by CDC employees and contractors, as well as a variety of related items, including instructions sent by the CDC’s Public Affairs office. Having not received a response, the Knight Institute has now sued the CDC demanding it turn over the information as soon as possible. Given the situation, you can see why this might be pretty damn urgent.

We are in the midst of a global pandemic. The novel coronavirus?and the disease that it causes, COVID-19?has spread to all fifty states. According to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, as of April 2, more than 215,000 people in the United States have been diagnosed with COVID-19, and more than 5,000 people have died from it. At a White House press conference on March 31, a member of the Coronavirus Task Force stated that they expected 100,000 to 240,000 deaths from COVID-19, even with mitigation efforts.

In the face of this public health emergency, the White House has restricted the flow of information from the CDC?the nation?s public health agency?to the public. According to recent news stories, scientists and health officials at the CDC must now coordinate with the Office of Vice President Mike Pence before speaking with members of the press or public about the pandemic. These stories have raised concerns that public health experts who know most about the risks to the public are not being permitted to speak candidly and that the information the government is now conveying may be incomplete, inaccurate, or misleading.

The CDC itself imposes unusually stringent restrictions on the ability of CDC employees to speak to the press and public. In 2017, Axios published text from a CDC policy announcing that ?any and all correspondence with any member of the news media, regardless of the nature of the inquiry, must be cleared through CDC?s Atlanta Communications Office.?

As the lawsuit notes, the CDC denied “expedited” status to the Institute’s FOIA request claiming — somewhat ridiculously — that the Institute ?failed to show that there is an imminent threat to the life or physical safety of an individual.? Yeah, not an individual, but to fucking everyone. Just… look around, dammit. The fact that we can’t get straight answers from people at the CDC is contributing to this mess we’re in today where thousands of people are dying and many tens of thousands more are expected to. It seems pretty damn petty for the CDC to quibble over this. But they are doing so, and hence, they’re getting sued.

Filed Under: , , , ,
Companies: knight institute

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Knight First Amendment Institute Sues The CDC For Failing To Provide Details Of Its Media Gag Order”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
That One Guy (profile) says:

'People are dying? Quick, protect my reputation!'

Pandemic hits and one of the first things that is done by the administration is to gag the experts and force them to go through an obviously biased third-party(wouldn’t do to have the CDC contradict Trump after all) if they want to say anything to the public.

Nice to see the administration’s priorities made crystal clear like that.

fairuse (profile) says:

But wait! There's free shipping.

Too much of this don’t scare the horses thinking. Even in business leadership that has contracts with Federal Agencies there is, in my limited observation, a tendency to pull a #SecNav when employees put in writing virus policy questions.

So, we get Dr Phil standing in for real experts. Dr Drew saying nonsense. I say sorry real doctors that want to engage the public as Dr. [first name here] but the flimflam artists trashed that ( see AMA).

In a way this rush to present a feel good front using Dr TVguy means I can ignore CDC. Works for me.

(runs off and finds John Hopkins virus resource!)

Anonymous Coward says:

The Trump regime pulled this with every Fed agency when it moved into the White House, anyway. (Those which weren’t defunded or decimated into oblivion with silence as a handy by-product.) This isn’t surprising, in fact, i am sure i am hardly the only person to expect it. This is what actual censorship looks like.

And then there’s Fauci, trying to inform people without contradicting the Chief Moron and company. Good luck to that dude.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Eldakka (profile) says:

that the Institute “failed to show that there is an imminent threat to the life or physical safety of an individual.” Yeah, not an individual, but to fucking everyone.

Maybe with their request to satisfy the "imminent threat to the life or physical safety of an individual" they could attach a list containing the names of all ~330million US citizens? And for added punch they could attach a list of all of those who have already died as examples of who has already experienced an "actual and realised" threat to the life of individuals due to this pandemic.

Anonymous Coward says:

Vaccinate for Coronavirus with Confidence

But this same regime is perfect when it comes to Vaccine injuries?

Why do you think there is a gag order on vaccines?

Stop Myths
CDC is engaging local messengers and partners to contain the spread of misinformation and ensure key stakeholders have critical information about vaccines.

New Investments and Partnerships

Work with social media companies to promote trustworthy vaccine information
Provide accurate, accessible information on vaccines to state policy makers
Engage state and local health officials to advance effective local responses to misinformation.

Priorities for 2020 and Beyond
CDC will prioritize the activities below to ensure that every community is protected:

Leverage diverse data sources to find and protect communities at risk
Expand resources for working with local communities
Build and foster a culture of immunization in health care practices
Continually improve communication strategies
Further invest in and collaborate with our vital partners


Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

What the Administration fears

If they were to let every actually knowledgeable person express the reality of the situation it could be detrimental to their economic plans. They have extracted nearly two Trillion Dollars from Congress and probably have some very specific ideas on how to channel that money (specifically who gets to benefit with some small portion being cover for the larger portions).

What the CDC could tell us is how to protect ourselves, what progress is being made on what fronts, their best guess of future timelines updated as new information is learned, and more importantly what help they think would be most beneficial in curbing the crisis. Mixed messages don’t herd the masses in the right direction effectively, there’s an election coming.

But the administration thinks that the only message we will hear if knowledgeable people are allow to speak is (I am reminded of the choir from the Harry Potter movies) "Something wicked this way comes!" which will drown out the message that the whole thing is a hoax. But here take this medicine because the Non-Doctor in Chief truly believes in its efficacy, and that that palliative is all we need, other than wisely expending (or pocketing) that almost two Trillion Dollar gift from Congress.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: What the Administration fears

Well, at least we know Trump’s next project won’t go bankrupt… since he has a 2T slush fund to work with and no effective oversight (since firing the one put in charge and eliminating other IG’s to send a message). "Look at my money funny and you are gone…" basically.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

Michael Grimes (profile) says:


I have to agree with the CDC that a FOIA request of this nature does not deserve expedited status. What life would possibly be saved and who who save it if the request was expedited?

The pandemic is not a straight forward one opinion thing as to how to treat and many other factors. There are also different projections that vary widely. Having one clear output and bellybutton for the issue makes perfect sense. The CDC can debate internally without fear that the media will latch onto every comment and spin it to scare the heck out of people…just because it is news and they can. The media does that all of the time on every issue. I do not trust the media to use a balanced and measured approach on this or any other issue. They have shown themselves incapable of actually reporting facts. It is all finger pointing and agendas.

In any event, the government has the perfect right and responsibility to control the narrative. It prevents widespread panic, divisiveness and fear.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: North Korea called, something about 'stealing our trick'?

What life would possibly be saved and who who save it if the request was expedited?

People who might have been given good advice, or have been dissuaded from bad advice, but weren’t able to because the CDC was prevented from saying anything for fear it would contradict the official narrative? Knowing whether the CDC is saying something because it aligns with actual experts or because it’s what they’ve been told to say is kinda important when knowing who is a trustworthy source can be the difference between life and death.

The media does that all of the time on every issue. I do not trust the media to use a balanced and measured approach on this or any other issue. They have shown themselves incapable of actually reporting facts. It is all finger pointing and agendas.

As opposed to the perfectly balanced and measured approach that the government has been employing, with absolutely zero finger pointing and agendas?

In any event, the government has the perfect right and responsibility to control the narrative. It prevents widespread panic, divisiveness and fear.

No it damn well does not, and in case you haven’t noticed it most certainly has not. They may have the power to control the narrative to an extent via threats of ‘say the wrong thing and you’re gone’, but just because someone can do something does not mean it’s the right choice or responsible.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...
Older Stuff
13:30 A Reagan Judge, The First Amendment, And The Eternal War Against Pornography (63)
12:27 Yelp Asks Court To Stop Texas AG Ken Paxton From Suing Them For Warning Users That Crisis Pregnancy Centers Are Scams (51)
13:20 'Porn' Is A Human Right (58)
11:54 American Library Association Data Shows The Party Of Free Speech Is Doing More Than Ever To Silence Speech (83)
10:40 5th Circuit Decides To Rehear Jawboning Case Involving Disinfo Researchers, Realizes It Can't Do That Yet, Changes Mind Hours Later (8)
10:56 Federal Judge Says Fuck The 1st Amendment While Upholding Public University's Drag Show Ban (91)
10:39 White House, States Try To Convince Supreme Court In Jawboning Case (73)
20:09 Delaware State Police Pay $50,000 To Man Troopers Ticketed For Flipping Them Off (23)
09:36 Supreme Court Puts 5th Circuit Ruling On Biden Admin Jawboning Of Social Media Companies On Hold For Shadow Docket Review (41)
10:45 New Jersey Appeals Court Says Even Some Forms Of Harassment Are Protected Speech (27)
13:38 Another Day, Another SLAPP Threat From A ‘Wellness’ Influencer Against Someone Reviewing Their ‘Masterclass’ (16)
09:31 5th Circuit Cleans Up District Court’s Silly Jawboning Ruling About the Biden Admin, Trims It Down To More Accurately Reflect The 1st Amendment (40)
09:27 Court Tosses Arkansas Age Verification Law For Violating The 1st Amendment (16)
15:20 Texas Ruling Shows You Can't Regulate Online Pornography Like A Public Health Crisis (25)
13:30 Court Says Texas’ Adult Content Age Verification Law Clearly Violates The 1st Amendment (35)
12:50 State Governments Can't Resist The Siren Song Of Censorship (81)
10:50 Fifth Circuit Denies Immunity To Detective Who Arrested A Man For A Satirical Facebook Post (21)
12:44 Montana’s Response To Lawsuits Over Laughably Unconstitutional TikTok Ban Is To Say That TikTok Is The Equivalent Of ‘Cancer-Causing Radio’ (19)
09:25 ‘Free Speech Absolutist’ Elon Musk Suggests He’s Going To Sue George Soros… For His Free Speech Advocating For Certain Laws (129)
10:47 Jordan's King Approves Bill That Criminalizes Online Anonymity, Publication Of Police Officers Names/Photos (14)
10:58 Kansas Cops Raid Small Town Newspaper In Extremely Questionable 'Criminal Investigation' (26)
09:22 Tennessee Teen Sues School For Suspending Him After He Posted Memes Mocking His Principal (15)
11:57 ‘Free Speech Absolutist’ Elon Musk Files Obvious SLAPP Suit Against Non-Profit Critic (49)
10:58 Prime Minister's Brother Latest Victim Of Singapore's 'Fake News' Law (5)
13:45 Court: Injunction Blocking Florida's Anti-Drag Law Applies To Everyone Affected By It, Not Just Venue That Sued It (35)
09:31 How Would The GOP Feel If Democrats In Congress Demanded Details Regarding How Fox News Or The NY Post Made Editorial Decisions? (267)
10:46 Republican AGs Decide That Coercive Jawboning Is Good, Actually (When They Do It) (28)
10:49 Ninth Circuit Dumps Oregon's 'Surreptitious Recording' Law, Handing A First Amendment Win To Project Veritas (35)
10:52 In 303 Creative, By Happily Helping One Bigot, SCOTUS (Perhaps Inadvertently) Helped The Larger Fight Against Bigotry (168)
09:24 EU And Elon Battle Over The New Internet Regulations That Elon Himself Endorsed Last Year (14)
More arrow