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Context of 'April 2006: NOAA Scientist Says that Agency Approval Process for Media Interviews Results in Fewer Interviews'

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Jana Goldman, the public affairs officer at NOAA’s Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR) division, writes in an email to a scientist from the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL), “If you get any press requests for IPCC please bump them to public affairs before you agree to an interview.” [Emphasis in original] Her mention of “IPCC” is a reference to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recently released third assessment report, which found “new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities.” (see January 22, 2001) Responding to Goldman’s request, the scientist writes, “It seems cumbersome at best. If this policy is implemented, it will greatly cut-down on NOAA scientist interviews.” (Maassarani 3/27/2007, pp. 52-53 pdf file)

Tom Delworth, a scientist at the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, tries to generate media attention for a paper (see April 13, 2001) he co-authored on the influence of human activities on the warming of the oceans. A media advisory and press conference about the paper is scheduled, but is repeatedly degraded until it is ultimately canceled. (Maassarani 3/27/2007, pp. 32 pdf file)

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) receives several requests for expert comments on a recent paper by climate scientist Kerry Emanuel (see August 1, 2005) suggesting that rising sea temperatures are resulting in stronger hurricanes. According to documents later obtained by the Government Accountability Project, the NOAA’s public affairs office redirects all requests for questions about Emanuel’s study, as well as all requests for interviews with federal climate scientist Knutson, to Chris Landsea, a scientist who does not believe there is a link between hurricane intensity and global warming (see July 27, 2005). (Union of Concern Scientists and Government Accountability Project 1/30/2007, pp. 30 pdf file) By August 1, Landsea will have participated in four such “routine, but sensitive” interviews. (Maassarani 3/27/2007, pp. 12 pdf file)

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 pdf file)

Thomas L. Delworth, an NOAA scientist who works in the Climate Dynamics and Prediction Group, will later say that by this date, a quarter of his prospective interviews with journalists have fallen through because of delays in the agency’s approval process. He also says that one third of the reporters he usually deals with no longer request interviews with him on account of the delays. He estimates that a typical request takes 24 hours to process while interviews that are potentially more controversial take longer, sometimes as long as five or six days. (Maassarani 3/27/2007, pp. 25-26 pdf file)

Ronald Stouffer, senior research meteorologist at the NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, tells Tarek Maassarani of the Government Accountability Project that the number of interviews he has had with the US media have dropped to almost zero. He attributes this to the cumbersome approval process that a journalist must wait through before being permitted to interview a scientist. Even if an interview is approved, the approval often comes too late, after the reporter’s deadline for the story. Stouffer refers to the NOAA’s clearing process as a “pocket veto” since delaying an approval often produces the same result as turning down an interview request. Stouffer also tells Maassarani that European journalists are usually “shocked” when they learn that interview requests need to be cleared by the public affairs office. (Maassarani 3/27/2007, pp. 23-24 pdf file)


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