CDC memo doesn't bode well for federal government transparency
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is looking to crack down on unapproved conversations between CDC employees and members of the news media, according to reports.
In an internal memo obtained by Axios, the agency instructed staff to seek approval for "any and all correspondence with any member of the news media" through the CDC's Communications Office.
"Effective immediately and until further notice, any and all correspondence with any member of the news media, regardless of the nature of the inquiry, must be cleared through the CDC's Atlanta Communications Office," wrote Jeremy Lancashire, CDC public affairs officer. "This correspondence includes everything from formal interview requests to the most basic of data requests."
The instructions laid out in the email seem to go against HHS' own guidelines for the release of information to the press. According to the agency, "employees are encouraged to speak to reporters about their work when ever possible and appropriate."
In response to a request for comment, CDC Senior Press Officer Shelly Diaz provided the following statement: "CDC uses multiple channels to communicate its science information to the public. CDC updated a procedure within an existing policy which coordinates news media requests within the agency. CDC public affairs officers continue to speak directly to news reporters to facilitate understanding of their requests and deadlines, and to share information. CDC will continue to refine procedures to ensure coordinated, accurate and timely release of information to the public through the media."
The memo appears to signify a marked change in policy, and one that seems to highlight a pattern throughout many health-related agencies under the Trump administration in terms of how they deal with media requests.
Modern Healthcare Senior Reporter Harris Meyer recently spoke to the Columbia Journalism Review about his experience trying to get an interview with HHS Secretary Dr. Tom Price for the 50 Most Influential Physician Executives list. Meyer ultimately gave up after two weeks of attempts.
Federal agencies like HHS and subunits like the CDC and the CMS were previously not incredibly forthcoming with information during the Obama administration. But a number of journalists, including myself, have noticed the task of getting either basic information or actually speaking with an employee or official from these agencies has become more difficult under the new administration.
In reporting for a story last month about a CDC report on cardiac rehabilitation rates among heart attack survivors, I initially contacted the author of a CDC study seeking an interview or a written answer from them to a question I had about their findings.
My request was denied by a representative from the communications office stating that all interview requests had to be cleared through them as well as through the scientific division, and that the process "took time," making it impossible for them to provide a response within the same day as when I made my query. My query was eventually answered four days after the story was published.
But it was at least answered, which is more than I can say about a request I made back in July to speak with new CDC Director Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald for a "Q and A" type interview. That request remains unanswered.
Send us a letter
Have an opinion about this story? Click here to submit a Letter to the Editor, and we may publish it in print.