Gagged? Not Hardly

The media is all abuzz with claims that the Trump Administration has “gagged” or “muzzled” the EPA. Under the headline

Trump administration seeks to muzzle U.S. agency employees

the news agency Reuters reports:

On Tuesday, a source at the EPA said that staff had been told by members of the Trump administration not to speak to reporters or publish any press releases or blog posts on social media. EPA staff have also been asked not to publicize any talks, conferences, or webinars that had been planned for the next 60 days, the staffer said, asking not to be named.

trump-gagged

The part that folks in the media don’t seem to understand is that this is standard business practice. If you run a large business you can’t have every hothead from the shipping department spouting off to the New York Times about how mean the bosses are. As a result, most large businesses have equivalent policies regarding publishing or discussing the internal business of the organization, particularly with the press.

These standard policies of large businesses generally mandate several things.

First, employees can’t talk to the press without prior authorization from the public relations department. They are told to pass all questions on to the PR department.

Next, as far as social media goes, employees are forbidden from doing anything that brings negative publicity on the organization. In particular, they cannot post on social media about what goes on at work.

Finally, it is totally verboten to discuss the future plans of the organization with anyone anywhere anytime. That is the job of the public relations department alone.

These are perfectly commonsense regulations. They are not “gagging” anyone. They are bog-standard business practice for very good reasons, and if the government employees don’t like these regulations they can go to work for Apple …

… oh, wait … Apple has exactly the same kind of policies about contact with the press and disclosures on social media, and for exactly the same reasons …

w.

PS: If you comment, please QUOTE THE EXACT WORDS you are referring to, so we can all understand your subject.

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17 thoughts on “Gagged? Not Hardly

  1. You mean the job descriptions do not include calling the talk-radio host and explaining why your boss is a jerk? In some countries that might get you “disappeared.”

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  2. I am crestfallen that a Federally employed climate activist may be fired from their job by leaking sensitive information, or, more to the point, releasing information that is contrary to the standard party line espoused by the present administrative honcho. For those in the Federal bureaucracy, previously having had the license to provide press reports reflecting one’s own view of the world and how it works is now being curtailed, seems to be a hardship. Choices are limited: continue to work in a very strange environment which seems to have had an about face of 180 degrees, or, Promising a future bereft of conflict and encouraged by the smooth and eloquent statements of people who are “in the know.” ie, consensus scientists. This is the way things are folks, take it or leave it. This is how it is and is going to be. Follow me or fall off the cliff. Enough said.

    The future seems dark at present what with catastrophic climate change cascading all around us, and not being able to speak, even whimper. Hardly seems fair to have such a turnabout from what was just gloriously a brief 3 months ago, able to espouse my own imaginative thoughts and press release to feed a frenzied media.

    I will really miss the days of climate catastrophe; ie, being free to speculate upon the future unbridled with realism or even worry about stretching what the numbers actually say. I have used, and will miss using the climate catastrophe narrative to further my own vision of what might be. For me, blocking EPA pronouncements and USDA information specials will certainly put a crimp into my own credibility as a provider of “Truth, Justice, and The American Way.”

    I am crestfallen.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Dang, Willis! You sure didn’t leave any room for disagreement with this post. Spot on.

    In the job I just retired from, I reported directly to the CEO of our (small, no PR department) company. Now, my boss had a lot of faith and trust in my abilities, but any communication I had with my counterparts outside of the company was read and approved by my boss, since he was ultimately responsible for our company’s image, reputation, and good relationships with our customers.

    I don’t think I would have made it to retirement if I had started spouting off publicly about our company, its processes, and how badly our management sucked. (It didn’t; well-run company.) I would have been fired on the spot.

    Liked by 5 people

  4. H.R. January 24, 2017 at 9:38 pm

    Dang, Willis! You sure didn’t leave any room for disagreement with this post. Spot on.

    Thanks, H.R. I have a “yuuuge” advantage over most analysts in understanding the Donald. I’ve been both a builder and a businessman. Here’s one of my building projects, from 2003.

    Building is a funny gig. It’s one of those occupations where either you can or you can’t. By that I mean, either you can bring the building in on time and under budget, or you can’t, and there are no instruction manuals. It leads to a great fondness for people and things that work, and a small tolerance for handwaving.

    Being a businessman in any business does have many of those aspects. And once you’ve been in charge of dozens and dozens of employees, the world looks different. I know about the necessity of keeping the employees from talking to the press because I had to deal with that very problem in my own business experience when I was in charge of seventy or so employees… just as you know about it for the same reason.

    w.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. At work with my co-workers we will dissect every last thing that happens and the plans that we are told about, we might even talk to family aboout some thing but when it comes to the media we are like Manuel in Faulty Towers. “We know nothing”

    James Bull

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  6. I often agree with you, Willis, but not here. Yes, from a company perspective it makes sense to have some communication guidelines exactly as you argue: it is not very practical if everyone would start to communicate.

    However, as a scientist my company is not my first obligation. The first (and second and third) obligation is science, and other interests only follow. I have sworn an oath to do proper science, to defend science, and report or counter abuse and misrepresentation.

    This also implies that I should keep distance from politics: sciencactivism jeopardizes my judgment and objectivity. As per formal but frequently violated IPCC policy: policy relevant, not policy prescriptive.

    Now, I assume (but don’t know) the ‘muzzling’ is a reaction to EPA scientist being too political, a wish to be policy prescriptive – not because they try to objectively and dispassionately perform or represent science.

    Those are lessons that should be taught in science 101 classes (but which does not happen). Institutions and politicians should stay far away from ‘muzzling’ scientists. I’m pretty sire EPA would muzzle their own scientists if they would discuss something not in line with EPA’s own preferences (let alone something jeopardizing EPA’s ‘raison d’etre’). The current administration thus could or should start a debate with EPA about the role of their science and scientists on their responsibility of doing ‘good’ science, and the dangers of sciencactivism jeopardizing their judgment and objectivity. If scientists themselves are not going to take care of their objectivity, honesty, and integrity, who will?

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    • Jos, you say:

      I often agree with you, Willis, but not here. Yes, from a company perspective it makes sense to have some communication guidelines exactly as you argue: it is not very practical if everyone would start to communicate.

      However, as a scientist my company is not my first obligation. The first (and second and third) obligation is science, and other interests only follow. I have sworn an oath to do proper science, to defend science, and report or counter abuse and misrepresentation.

      If that is the case, I would NEVER hire you as a scientist. And if that is the case, you could NEVER work for the government or for any large business.

      Which is fine, it is your choice … but if so, your situation has nothing to do with the question at hand of restrictions that all governments and many businesses put on their workers

      This also implies that I should keep distance from politics: sciencactivism jeopardizes my judgment and objectivity. As per formal but frequently violated IPCC policy: policy relevant, not policy prescriptive.

      Finally, you are under the misapprehension that businesses and governments should NOT put restrictions on their employees speaking to the public. What that tells me is that you have never in your life had to run a big unruly company or government department … they simply cannot run successfully with every boy and his dog giving their point of view to Breitbart and the New York Times. Doesn’t work, as you’d know if you’d ever tried it.

      w.

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  7. W – Posted the exact same points as your article on a blog yesterday. Must have received 20 vicious replies stating the public paid for these employees so they had every right to speak publicly to straight out f u.
    Left just doesn’t want to “get it” and will be forever angry.
    O/T – Received a polling phone call from our provincial gov’t (Canada). The poll was on discrimination. I frankly don’t see much if any discrimination in Canada – folks are petrified of being labelled. One poll question was “Order in importance the following discriminator practices” . I refused to answer the question as I did not feel it is an issue. Nothing like perpetuating the myths for your own agenda.

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    • The odd thing, Danny, is regarding “every right to speak out publically”, they only mean if that opinion matches theirs. Otherwise it is totally unacceptable.

      Odd that, idn’t it?

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  8. Thanks, Willis. The academic echo chamber around here is taking the Reuters story a step farther, and propagating rumors that the new administration is instituting a ‘ministry of truth’ to gag all scientists who receive NIH funding. Fake news, anyone?

    The reality is, even here in a university environment there is some limitation over how we can use our university credentials to carry out advocacy. Generally speaking, advocacy is OK if it is suitably green and progressive. But it is quickly censured (and censored) if it offends the administration. Many of our faculty lined up to sign a public letter condemning the president elect very shortly after the election without any consequence. But one faculty member had the temerity to (jokingly) offer protesters bus tickets to Canada (via Facebook) and lost his administrative post over it. That is just to say that progressives are Just Fine with gag orders as long as it is the hateful enemy that is being gagged.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I used to be a federal employee with the Social Security Administration. The rules were the same under
    Reagan, Bush1, Carter, Bush 2, and Obama. This is a non news story

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