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Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), officially implements a new NOAA-wide media policy. The new policy, written by NOAA Public Affairs Director Jordan St. John, government lawyers, and Commerce Department policymakers, gives the NOAA’s public affairs offices ultimate authority over all agency communications. (Alexandrovna 10/4/2005; Union of Concern Scientists and Government Accountability Project 1/30/2007, pp. 31 ; Maassarani 3/27/2007, pp. 10 ) The media policy will become more restrictive after Hurricane Katrina (see September 29, 2005).
National Weather Service (NWS) Regional Public Affairs Director Jim Teet sends an email to employees of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) informing them that all requests for contact from the national media must “now receive prior approval by” the Commerce Department. According to the memo, when a media request is made, employees must obtain the “name of the reporter and their affiliation; [t]heir deadline and contact phone number; [n]ame of individual being requested for the interview and purpose of the interview; [a]dditional background about the interview subject, and expertise of requested interviewee on this subject,” and then provide this information to the NWS press office. From there, the request shall be forwarded to the Commerce Department’s public relations office, whose staff will then decide how to handle the media request. According to an unnamed NOAA employee, “prior to this policy change, if a media organization called our office (or any other National Weather Service office) and wanted an interview, we would do our best to accommodate the request as quickly as possible. While often such requests are from local media, local offices do get requests from national media if a weather event is big enough to be a national story.” But NOAA Public Affairs Director Jordan St. John insists that “the policy has been in existence all along,” and that he had rewritten it in June 2004 (see June 28, 2004) with lawyers and Commerce Department policymakers. But NOAA employees tell the Raw Story that they had never been informed of these restrictions before, and some suggest that the timing of Teet’s email may be related to the political impact of hurricane Katrina. According to Raw Story, there is a substantial difference between the June 2004 policy and the one emailed by Teet. “[T]he emailed policy states that routine contact with national media outlets has to be pre-cleared with the Commerce Department, requiring extensive information about the journalist and media outlet [while] [t]he media policy St. John provided does not stipulate such restrictions on interacting with national media. Nor does it state that the Commerce Department must approve media requests,” Raw Story reports. (Alexandrovna 10/4/2005; Judis 2/11/2006; Union of Concern Scientists and Government Accountability Project 1/30/2007, pp. 31 )
Journalist Brian O’Malley contacts NOAA climate scientist Thomas Knutson to request an interview for an op-ed piece he is working on that will be published in the New York Times. Knutson forwards the request to NOAA public affairs officer Jana Goldman, who then checks with NOAA Public Affairs Director Jordan St. John. In her email to St. John, she concludes, “Knutson and I are concerned that Knutson’s science may be used to advance a policy position.” St. John responds, “Can you call [redacted] back and quiz him on what he’s working on. If it sounds a bit untowards, you can always just refer him to Tom’s paper and let me [sic] make his own characterizations.” Goldman replies, “Just spoke to him—he just wants to better understand the science—he is not looking to link an individual with a point of view.” St. John tells her to reject the request. “Take a pass,” he says. “We’ll deal with media requests but let’s not open the door to others.” (Maassarani 3/27/2007, pp. 21 )
NOAA public affairs officer Jana Goldman sends an email to superiors requesting blanket approval for a number of interview requests that scientist Tom Delworth has received from the media. All the requests pertain to the same climate change-related topic. But NOAA Public Affairs Director Jordan St. John rejects her request and says that each interview needs to be considered separately. “There are no blanket answers. Each one has to be dealt with as we get it,” he says. (Maassarani 3/27/2007, pp. 26 )
NOAA Public Affairs Director Jordan St. John says in an email that he has rejected a request for an NOAA scientist to participate in a debate. “I talked to producer [sic],” St. John says. “They are setting this up to a debate on whether there is global warming. I told John to call her back and say thanks, but not [sic] thanks.” (Maassarani 3/27/2007, pp. 17 )
Warren Washington, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado, accuses the Bush administration of suppressing climate change data, limiting journalists’ access to government scientists, and rewriting news releases on global climate change. According to Washington, Bush administration officials are “trying to confuse the public.” He says these tactics are taking place at numerous federal agencies, including NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA ), and the US Forest Service. NOAA spokesman Jordan St. John denies the allegations. “NOAA is an open and transparent agency,” he says. “It’s unfair to the people who work at this agency that this kind of characterization keeps being made. Hansen said it once (see After December 6, 2005), and it took on a life of its own and just keeps getting repeated.” (Erickson 6/8/2006)
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