Sharpie Gate In Sharper Focus — Emails Show Damage From Trump “Forecast” Map

Photo Erin Schaff, The New York Times

Late Friday evening, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration dumped more than a thousand of pages of documents about the President’s changes to the hurricane Dorian forecast map and the recriminations afterward that Jason Leopold from Buzzfeed News had requested.  He then tweeted out some of the doozies — in which agency leadership called what the President did “crazy” and some of the political leaders even considered resigning and claimed not to have approved an agency press release that was critical of the local forecasters who corrected the President.  The emails show that the President’s alteration of the hurricane map caused confusion and TV forecasters immediately saw the issue and sought clarification.

Why This Matters:  The pattern is hauntingly familiar to anyone watching the impeachment hearings and trial.  Good public servants — some appointed by the President and some career — were doing their best to deal with the fallout from the rash actions of a President blatantly misusing the power of his office.  They tried to calm fears and keep essential government functions working in order to uphold their sworn oath to “protect and defend” our country.  But one has to wonder why the political leaders did not speak up more.  And I (Monica) applaud my former colleagues at NOAA like Craig McLean who did.  What the President and some of the leaders at the Department of Commerce did was unconscionable and they did not live up to their oaths. No President should ever change an official hurricane forecast map.  EVER.  The public must have confidence that no one plays politics with a hurricane forecast.  

Documents Tell The Tale of SharpieGate

First, recall that the President, when he showed his doctored forecast map, claimed that Alabama “will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated” by Hurricane Dorian.  According to The Washington Post, Trump’s statement “was widely interpreted within NOAA’s National Weather Service as contradicting an accurate forecast due to political pressure from the White House and the Department of Commerce.”  The emails show that top NOAA officials knew right away that the map had been doctored and that what the President said was wrong.  Media requests came in from all directions and to many offices immediately after the President’s oval office statement with the doctored map.  NOAA’s office of public affairs struggled to get the word out to the agency — “The chart shown in the briefing is old and doctored to extend the cone to Alabama,” Corey Pieper of NOAA’s press office wrote in an email to colleagues.

Second, the President’s acting Chief of Staff directed NOAA to issue a statement rebuking the local forecast office that had by tweet immediately corrected the President’s misinformation about the storm track. That set off a firestorm across the agency and triggered low moral.  In an e-mail to the acting head of NOAA, NOAA’s Head of Research said, “What’s next? Climate science is a hoax?…Flabbergasted to leave our forecasters hanging in the political wind,” and signed it, “Embarrassed, Craig.” Some leaders considered quitting but appear to have stayed out of a sense of duty. In response to another anguished email, the acting head of NOAA told an employee, “You have no idea how hard I’m fighting to keep politics out of science.”

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