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: cdc free speech, covid-19, foia, gag orders, media
Companies: knight institute


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 9 Apr 2020 @ 8:35pm

    '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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    fairuse (profile), 9 Apr 2020 @ 9:48pm

    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!)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Apr 2020 @ 10:07pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Bobvious, 9 Apr 2020 @ 10:41pm

    CDC

    Coronavirus Dissemination - Controlled?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    techflaws (profile), 9 Apr 2020 @ 11:15pm

    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.

    Cause the fact that they fired them would never come out and make them look even worse. Got it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Eldakka (profile), 10 Apr 2020 @ 1:09am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Apr 2020 @ 2:37am

    How else are they to sell their snake oil treatments?

    If Dr Oz is not allowed to sell zinc on tv, is life really worth living?

    How in the hell is donny supposed to make a profit on his malaria miracle drug if we have knowledgeable people telling the truth?

    /s

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    The Central Scrutinizer (profile), 10 Apr 2020 @ 2:44am

    Can someone, somehow, please gag that idiot in the white house? He is worse than the bloody virus.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Apr 2020 @ 6:54am

    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?

    https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/partners/vaccinate-with-confidence.html

    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

    .

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 10 Apr 2020 @ 7:02am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 10 Apr 2020 @ 8:28am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Thad (profile), 10 Apr 2020 @ 9:46am

      Re: What the Administration fears

      ..."something wicked this way comes" is a line from Macbeth.

      I mean yeah they set it to music in one of the Harry Potter movies, but it predates the movie by a few hundred years.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Apr 2020 @ 8:45am

    What!? There's a "Knight First Amendment Institute"?

    NOOO! That should've been the "Knight First Amendment Foundation!" That would've been so easy.

    Whoever was responsible for naming this outfit and missed this marvellous opportunity should be FIRED!!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 10 Apr 2020 @ 10:23am

      Whatever joke you think you’re making here, it isn’t landing.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 10 Apr 2020 @ 10:46am

        Re:

        I think he might be referencing the 1980's TV show called Knight Rider with David Hasselhoff and a talking car.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 10 Apr 2020 @ 6:24pm

          Re: Re:

          I have just learned that there already is a Knight Foundation (has been since 1950).

          However, it's got nothing to do with equipping vigilantes with talking, self-driving cars for the betterment of society and righting the world's wrongs one small step at a time.

          Alas.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          nasch (profile), 13 Apr 2020 @ 10:49am

          Re: Re:

          If so, he should be aware that Michael Knight (nee Long) worked for (with?) Knight Industries not the Knight Foundation (KITT = Knight Industries Two Thousand).

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Michael Grimes (profile), 10 Apr 2020 @ 6:51pm

    FOIA

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 10 Apr 2020 @ 11:40pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Apr 2020 @ 3:37am

      Re: FOIA

      Nothing like the authoritarian mind set, which leads to whatever the government saying being promulgated as the whole truth, even when as often happens it is a pack of lies.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Apr 2020 @ 6:33am

      Re: FOIA

      So you want the government to lie to you, ok - cool man, but leave me out of it.

      Had everyone been up front and honest things would not have been as bad as it has gotten. Ill informed and unequipped is no way to enter a war.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 11 Apr 2020 @ 7:20pm

      You were only supposed to lick the boot, not turn it into a three-course meal.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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