Dept. of Commerce denies report that Wilbur Ross threatened to fire NOAA officials

September 10, 2019

“Sharpiegate” almost came with career casualties, the New York Times claims. In a report Monday, the Times claimed that President Donald Trump’s Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross threatened to fire top officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) after they contradicted Trump on Hurricane Dorian.

The commerce secretary’s office has denied the report. “The New York Times story is false. Secretary Ross did not threaten to fire any NOAA staff over forecasting and public statements about Hurricane Dorian,” a spokesperson told The Hill.

Sharpie scandal

Media outrage over “Sharpiegate” began last week when the National Weather Service’s Birmingham division contradicted Trump’s claim that Alabama “will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated.” Early forecasts indeed showed Alabama in the storm’s projected path, but by the time of Trump’s September 1 tweet, those predictions were dated, the Washington Examiner reported.


Rather than unite the country as a deadly hurricane was savaging the Bahamas and spiraling towards the East Coast, though, the media fixated on Trump’s Alabama claim and generated a fake scandal. As the media continued to attack Trump over the forecast, the president doubled down, pointing to the early weather reports for vindication and calling on the “Fake News” to apologize. The name for the contrived scandal was coined when Trump displayed a map in the Oval Office that showed a sharpie-drawn semi-circle extending the storm’s projected path to include Alabama.

As the media hate storm continued to rage, the Times claims that Ross contacted NOAA’s acting director Neil Jacobs on Friday and demanded that he have NWS staff in Birmingham staff walk back their contradiction of Trump. When Jacobs refused, Ross threatened to fire political staff at NOAA, which oversees the NWS, the Times wrote, citing three unnamed sources.

The Times report fed into the narrative, now brewing in the media for days, that the NOAA has been complicit in Trump’s “war on the truth” throughout “Sharpiegate.” Shortly after Ross’s alleged threat Friday, NOAA disavowed the NWS’s statement on Alabama, saying it “spoke in absolute terms that were inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time,” and sided with Trump instead.

Dems call on Ross to resign

While nobody lost their jobs at NOAA, Democrats want Ross to lose his over the alleged threats. Democratic Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA), who sits on the House Space, Science and Technology Committee, said that Ross’s “direct attacks on the scientists and federal employees, whom he threatened to fire for doing their jobs by accurately reporting the weather, are an embarrassing new low for a member of this Cabinet which has been historically venal and incompetent.”

Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT) told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that “if that story is true — and I don’t know that it is — but if that story is true, the Commerce Secretary needs to resign now. That would be the most blatant use of an official position in the service of the ego and the political fortunes of the president that we have ever seen.” The Sierra Club, the largest environmental group in the country, also called for Ross’s resignation.

Meanwhile, NOAA has faced pushback from within the agency and the NWS, with critics characterizing its decision to back Trump as a political capitulation that put loyalty to the president above facts. NOAA’s chief scientist, Craig McLean, is investigating the NOAA’s “political” decision. The Commerce Department’s inspector general is also looking into NOAA’s statement following the Times report on Ross.

Priorities…

However, there seems to be little talk on the left about how the media, in its infinite self-absorption, obsessed over a sharpie drawing for several days while an actual hurricane was careening towards the United States. Wouldn’t it benefit the country for the media to support, rather than tarnish, the president during a time of national emergency?

By Saturday, Trump said he was eager to move on from the story, but complained that the “LameStream Media just won’t let it alone. They always have to have the last word, even though they know they are defrauding & deceiving the public.”

But it wouldn’t be a proper scandal unless the media collects some scalps from Trump world. It’s not surprising to see that they’re still pushing this non-story.

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Matthew Boose

Matthew Boose is a staff writer for Conservative Institute. He has a Bachelor's degree from Stony Brook University and has contributed to The Daily Caller and The Stony Brook Press.