On 3 May 2017, an internal e-mail apparently sent to employees of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration at its White Oak facility in Maryland was made public through social media. The memo said that all television monitors at the facility were set to exclusively display the Fox News channel at the request of unnamed “administration administrative officials”:
.@CharlesPPierce, Here’s a screen shot of the FDA email announcing all Fox, all the time.
Screen shot protects the sender. pic.twitter.com/cnRQ2ahJQ9
— Paul Thacker (@thackerpd) May 5, 2017
An FDA spokesperson confirmed the authenticity of the e-mail, but told us:
There was no directive or memorandum from the Administration that went out to employees about broadcast news channels displaying on monitors in common areas throughout the FDA’s White Oak campus.
According to an agency official, the e-mail was written by “a customer service representative from the FDA’s Office of Facilities responding to a group of employees.” The official also said that campus television monitors currently display a “variety of news shows”, but did not say whether that has consistently been the case.
The internal message appears to have been written in response to concerns expressed by employees. It also clearly states that a change of news channels was made at the “request” of Trump administration officials, and could not be reversed “at this time.” Although the FDA denies that an administrative “directive or memorandum” went out to employees, that doesn’t rule out the possibility that administration officials made the request to higher-ups at the FDA, or that someone in a position of authority gave those instructions verbally to employees.
According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, the switch to the Fox News Channel did, in fact, take place, if only temporarily:
The FDA’s TV monitors typically have split screens, with half announcing FDA news such as upcoming scientific or regulatory lectures. The other half showed CNN, at least until a week ago, when the hallway monitors were switched to Fox.
Friday morning, after an image of the email explaining the shift to Fox News was tweeted, monitors were switched back so that some displayed CNN and some Fox News, FDA doctors said.
Our requests for further clarification from the FDA have thus far yielded no response.