Cone of silence descends on a town built on leaks

There is something astonishing when this tweet draws virtual gasps on Twitter for the courage it took to write it.


“Hero,” one of the hundreds of responses to the tweet said.

[Update: The tweets have been deleted.]

The National Park Service was earlier banned from tweeting after its account retweeted a tweet showing a comparison of the attendance at the inaugurations of Donald Trump and Barack Obama.

After the NPS said that it regretted the tweet, it was allowed to speak again, but the chill has been unmistakable.

Quartz reports today that the president has ordered the Agricultural Research Service not to publicly discuss any of its work.

“The beachheads have landed, practically nothing is allowed for now,” a department source told Quartz, which obtained a copy of a memo to staff that they will need explicit permission from the Secretary of Agriculture’s office for even the routine business, “including speaking with members of Congress and their staff.”

There presently is no secretary of agriculture.

The administration has also ordered a media blackout at the Environmental Protection Agency.

News releases, blog updates or posts to the agency’s social media accounts have been banned, the Associated Press reports.

“Governments always have and will always impede the press from doing their job, and they will use any means necessary,” Jack Shafer, Politico’s senior media writer, writes. The previous administration was little different, he says.

“All governments lie,” as journalist I.F. Stone once wrote, “but disaster lies in wait for countries whose officials smoke the same hashish they give out.” From my vantage, the Obama administration got Choom Gang stoned on their media pirouetting and the Trump administration seems to have come close to matching them in just a couple of days.

It is unseemly and counterproductive for journalists to sulk every time the Trump administration yanks their chain. Satisfying, yes, but unseemly and counterproductive. Because I believe in a multiverse of journalistic approaches, I would be the last person to ban moping among the press corps. Sometimes there’s nothing better than a long stay in the weeping room to embolden the beaten.

Washington is a city built on leaks and it’s unlikely efforts to stifle government transparency will work. As Shafer appears to suggest, it only makes leaks more likely.

From the archive: Obama chides reporters for not doing what he’s preventing them from doing (NewsCut)

  • MrE85
    • Al

      Maybe we can get Trump a shoe-phone to tweet from.

      • MrE85

        The title of the show isn’t a very good fit with the current administration.

        • Al


      • Jerry

        How about we just give him a shoe and tell him it’s a phone?

  • Al

    Many of us who work in government communications interpret the NPS ban as a shot across the bow.

    It’s sobering.

  • lobd

    What happens if they ignore the ban? I guess we’ll see if they have jobs next week. Oh, wait, they don’t have bosses in charge of anything, so probably nothing!

  • Kevin D. Hendricks

    Bob, can you give us some context? What’s the justification for a media blackout from these gov’t orgs? I get that Trump doesn’t believe in climate change so he’s going to stop the Badlands from tweeting about it (those tweets are already deleted)—that seems political (though crazy). But a total media blackout? Not reporting or sharing anything? That seems radical. Have we seen this from previous administrations (though of course Twitter hasn’t existed for long)? (FYI, your comparison to Obama’s treatment of the press is helpful.)

    Part of me wants to get up in arms, part of me is thinking there should be a more reasonable explanation.

    • I got nothing.

      • Kevin D. Hendricks

        That made me laugh. Thanks.

      • Kevin D. Hendricks

        This Buzzfeed story has more context, which seems to change the story in my mind:

        The climate change tweets were posted by a former employee, and park officials decided to delete them because the account had been “compromised,” a National Parks official told BuzzFeed News.

        “Several tweets posted on the Badlands National Park’s Twitter account today were posted by a former employee who was not currently authorized to use the park’s account. The park was not told to remove the tweets but chose to do so when they realized that their account had been compromised.”

  • DavidG

    USDA is now claiming they didn’t issue such an order to the ARS. I can’t quite tell if they’re backing off in the face of controversy, someone misinterpreted the memo, or if they’re gaslighting us.

    Given that these orders are being reported in multiple agencies, I’d guess they’re gaslighting us.

    • The link you supplied doesn’t say what you wrote, though.

      • DavidG

        “This internal email was released without
        Departmental direction, and prior to Departmental guidance being
        issued,” USDA said in a statement. “ARS will be providing updated
        direction to its staff.”

        That looks like a denial that the USDA was the source of the order, and laying the blame at the feet of the ARS leadership. So I’m not sure what isn’t supported there. The subsequent USDA memo was not quite as drastic as the ARS memo.

        The rest is hypotheses as to what happened based on what hat information we do have.

  • crystals

    The Badlands National Park tweets have now been deleted. Salute to the social media manager who put their job on the line to tweet actual facts and in doing so highlighted the terrifying censorship underway in our new administration.

  • Postal Customer

    Four days in, and it’s already taken a very dark and dismal turn. You know this didn’t come from Trump. It came from one of the many troglodytes in DC who finally have a uninquisitive, sympathetic ear in the White House. Somebody’s been wanting to do this.

    What I think is interesting is that the minute Republicans take office, they begin attacking people, attacking things. Who can we attack today? Who can we bring down? Who can we humiliate and belittle? Who can we destroy?

    Mr E85 was opining on the 2018 election. We may not make it that far.

    • Jerry

      The Packers losing was the final straw, wasn’t it?

  • Gordon near Two Harbors

    This type of censoring only happens because the people doing the actual censoring are not held personally responsible. Why do they sleep so soundly?

    • Rob

      The soulless have no trouble sleeping soundly.

  • Mike Worcester

    Considering the sieve-like nature of Washington D.C., information will find its way out. Maybe by more clandestine means, but it will find its way to the hands of reporters, bloggers, etc. If past practice has taught us anything, DC, like nature, abhors a vacuum.

    • Jay T. Berken

      It is an interesting question of how much clout that the U.S. services’ reports really have in today’s partisan environment as for policy? I am by no means under-minding the importance of the reports.

  • MJI

    Using Wayback to see if I can archive as much as the MN dnr climate change stuff before it gets scrubbed like WI’s page.

  • jon

    “I’ve never seen transparency that I didn’t like.”

    You know I listened to a lot of comments on “King Obama” and “Dictator Obama” and about how “Obama was going to declare martial law rather than leave office.”

    We are not even through the first week of Trump leading the country and so far he has begun to created a new level of government opaqueness (no information about the scientific studies taxpayer dollars are funding should be released to taxpayers!)

    He has threatened what I assume is martial law for the city of Chicago (but not cities with a higher murder per capita rate like Detroit, new orleans, or St. Louis… probably because those cities are in red states and Chicago was mean to him during the election.)
    And somehow the people who were upset about obama are cheering this guy on…

    At this point I don’t think any one who is supporting Trump can claim to promote liberty, the exact opposite statements have been made and applauded… at this point it’s more “revenge of the GOP” than “liberty for all”…

    I am honestly starting to fear a military coup.
    Trump insulted the CIA by making their wall for fallen agents into a political prop, he is threatening to use federal police/military forces in Chicago. (likely illegal, see Posse Comitatus Act). If he keeps up at this rate and congressional GOP does nothing to rein him in….. it’s a terrifying time to live in this country (or the world given the destabilizing effect US infighting would have globally)

    • MikeB

      The projection is amazing, isn’t it?

      • rallysocks

        along with the pettiness and shortsightedness it is downright stupefying.

    • Heb Ienek

      “no information about the scientific studies taxpayer dollars are funding should be released to taxpayers!”

      I assume you are referring to AGW. As I understand it, that is or soon will be a moot problem at least as far as taxpayer dollars are concerned.

  • Rob

    1984, meet the year of the Fibber/Fabulist-in-Chief. I’m optimistic that once Tea-rump gets this voter fraud bee out of his bonnet and sends National Guard troops to the south side of Chicago, things will be all better. I do look forward to seeing his tax info once it’s been leaked.

    • Veronica

      I’m so glad a bunch of dudes are in the comment section trying to tell the rest of us it’s going to be OK.

      • Rob

        You did get the sarcasm, right? Ain’t nothin’ gonna be O.K. for a very, very long while.

    • Heb Ienek

      Say, aren’t you the “YAWN” fellow?

      • Rob

        Yes, which makes you merely a yawnee.

  • bpost

    Are there any departments that haven’t received a gag order thus far? Late yesterday it came out that NIH has received such an order and this morning I read that Commerce has received one as well.
    Does anyone know how far down do these orders go? I had to look it up but I learned that the NOAA, which supervises the National Weather Service, falls under the Commerce Department. As a resident of the Red River Valley, I do rely on free, accurate information coming from the NWS in terms of flood forecasts. Or because that touches on climate volatility, will they no longer be forthcoming without White House approval?

    • jon

      All communications must go through the office of propagand- uh, I mean communications, the office of communications.

      In the future weather forecasts will read.
      “Due to the failure of the red river valley to proclaim their love for our glorious leader, a flood will be sent to ravage their lands, Should they repent and proclaim their love for glorious leader then fema funds will be made available to them.”

      • MikeB

        I like communities that don’t get flooded.

        • Jerry

          If communities don’t get flooded, Led Zeppelin wouldn’t have recorded one of their best songs.

    • Heb Ienek

      Just a guess. I’d look for flood forecasts that don’t assign causation beyond precipitation.

  • Heb Ienek

    It has never occurred to me to make public comments aimed at embaressing my boss, or my company. I guess working for a public entity has different concepts of acceptable behavior.

    • chris

      Does your boss deny a reality that threatens the health of the planet?

      • Heb Ienek

        It would not occur to me to call a press conference to discuss my opinions on what my boss considers to be reality, or to presume to speak for my company before I had turned in my notice.

        • jon

          Would it occur to you that speaking verifiable facts would be embarrassing to your organization?

          If that became the case for myself, I’d consider finding a different organization (I have on several occasions when places have either turned to be bad, or have become bad).

          But I work in the private sector, if I leave a company and they fail some one else will step up and take their place, in the public sector I appreciate those who continue to work to serve the public despite ultimately reporting up to some one who is embarrassed by statements of fact.

          If your organization thrives on lying, and keeping people ignorant, you are in a great position to be a whistleblower… only requirement is having some morals and acting on them.

          • Heb Ienek

            As regards climate change, while it is undeniable it is in a constant state of flux, there are verifiable facts to bolster and refute the idea that people are the cause. There are verifiable facts to bolster and refute the idea it is a self-perpetuating phenomenon.

            If my employer were the government, and they decided to ignore those truths, I’d be disappointed, maybe I’d find another job, but I wouldn’t take it upon myself to publish my conclusions on an official website without authority.

            BTW, I was listening to NPR at lunch, and the guest shared the fact that federal websites were scrubbed when Obama took office. I must have missed the hue and cry.

    • Kassie

      Ultimately, public servants have a responsibility to the American people, not just the President (or Governor or Mayor or County Board, etc). The President doesn’t fund the work of the EPA, the American people do, and they have the right to results of that work.

      As a government employee, I also have free speech protections outside of my official work duties and am able to criticize my elected officials, who may also be my boss. This is not the case with private employees. It is very different and it should be for the sake of the democracy.

      • Heb Ienek

        The Director of the EPA serves at the pleasure of the President; right wrong or indifferent that’s the way it works. The people have the right to the results of the work they do, but they do not have much say in what that work is. That’s because, as Obama reminded his GOP critics, elections have consequences.

        You have every bit as much right to criticize my elected officials as any one else. Unless you happen to be the top administrator, you do not have the right to make those critical observations in the name of what ever bureaucracy you work for.

        • Kassie

          I wasn’t talking about a director. I was talking about the civil servants. The ones who do not work at the pleasure of the executive.

          And I haven’t seen anyone criticizing the President in the name of the agency. I’ve seen people posting true facts and the Trump administration getting their undies in a bunch about it. Saying this crowd was bigger than that crowd or climate change exists are not criticism.

          • Heb Ienek

            Civil servants will follow the instructions that come from up the food chain. The websites will be back up, and will contain information that supports the President’s agenda. Just like they did when Obama took office from Bush.

            Odd that you would mention the crowd size issue. CNN has just released a gigapixel photo of the inauguration that is going viral.


            It’s really not possible to see the crowd density, but we can clearly see that the vast empty spaces shown in earlier photos are occupied to some density; there are people all the way back to the Washington Monument; just as Trump has claimed. The picture doesn’t verify Trump’s claim to a larger crowd, but it absolutely refutes earlier claims of a much smaller one.

            I hope this puts this issue to rest, but it probably won’t.

  • Heb Ienek

    There is a newly published gigapixel photo that gives lie to the comparisons that the Park Service posted.

    You cannot tell crowd density, but you can clearly see the vast empty spots in earlier photos are occupied. You can also clearly see the crowd extends back to the Washington Monument, which is what Trump and his people have been saying.

    I’m sure everyone will agree that no good is served when government agencies publish misleading information, or photos. Maybe this will enable us all to move on to the next outrage.

    • Doesn’t look much different from the side by side CNN posted the other day

      • Heb Ienek


    • KTFoley

      The gigapixel photo does not support Trump’s claim. It shows that the crowd extends back to the white tent that crosses most of the mall, blocking any view of the space between it and the base of the monument.

      The 2017 aerial photo shows that the white tent is well in front of the Washington Monument.

      • Heb Ienek

        The picture proves there were more people there than the original picture showed; that’s all. But that’s enough.

        • KTFoley

          The picture shows only that a horizontal perspective gives a different impression than an aerial shot.

          When the president is continuing to claim attendance numbers that are not supported, it’s not enough.