In My Own Words: When the weather became political

By: RABBI RACHEL ESSERMAN, EXECUTIVE EDITOR

We make our share of mistakes at The Reporter. My favorite one was a headline that read “Cornell dinning room” (it should have read dining room), while others in the office prefer the headline that referred to Beth Dave (in place of Beth David). How that occurred I have no idea. I comfort myself with the knowledge that the Press and Sun-Bulletin, The Washington Post and The New York Times have also made mistakes – some worse than ours. My staff tries to prevent mistakes from occurring in this column, although the young folks once didn’t correct a song title because they were born years after it was popular.
Fortunately, most of our mistakes are minor. If a day and date don’t agree in an article, readers know to check which is correct. Our mistakes don’t make people wonder if they’ll have to evacuate their home or worry about damage caused by a hurricane. However, that’s what occurred recently after President Donald Trump tweeted that Hurricane Dorian was headed toward Alabama. The National Weather Service tweeted its own information, noting that Alabama was not in the hurricane’s path. The president refused to admit he made a mistake – saying the scientists were wrong. Reportedly, his commerce secretary, who supervises the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, went so far as to pressure the organization into reprimanding the scientists who sent out the accurate information. Forget about panicking citizens and the damage that might cause. According to the NOAA, the president’s ego matters more than the truth. In fact, the organization sent out a nationwide memo telling its employees never to disagree with a president again.
My concern is not that President Trump accidentally said that Alabama was in the path of Hurricane Dorian. We all makes mistakes. I’m not even concerned that he later appeared with a fake weather map to prove that the mistake was caused by the National Weather Service, rather than admit he had misread the original map. I think most of us agree that President Trump will never admit that he is wrong.
What does concern me is that National Weather Service forecasters in Alabama were chastised by their organization. Those forecasters were doing their job: informing the public about what was really going to happen and preventing U.S. citizens from panicking about a hurricane that was not going to hit their shores. They are paid to give correct, up-to-date information. Our weather forecasts should have nothing to do with politics. To chastise people for presenting accurate information not only politicizes the weather, but puts United States citizens in danger.
In my mind, the worst part of this is that the problem had an easy solution. All we needed was a “yikes, sorry, read that wrong” from President Trump and the issue would have ended there. We all make mistakes and should be willing to admit when they occur. Trying to cover-up a mistake usually creates more problems. It’s humiliating to watch a president try to prove a lie. It’s awful – and dangerous – to OK incorrect weather reports. Our scientists should not have to worry about a politician’s ego. People’s lives are at stake. There is no excuse for what occurred and the fact that NOAA directed its people to lie by commission or omission is dangerous and a threat to our country. This must never happen again and those responsible should be fired.