The Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are not known for changing up their relationships with the news media. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as the information these two agencies provide usually is critical and reaches the public in a timely manner.
But both FDA and CDC have interesting quirks in how they use us in the “free press.” Whenever I am asked, I try to help them out. I don’t preach about “transparency.” It is one of about a half dozen tired weasel words used these days by people who have nothing to say.
By contrast “credibility” is a something you can measure, and it’s meaningful for any organization’s mission.
I’d be willing to bet some money on the FDA’s credibility being greater once the agency begins to release the list of specific retailers who sold recalled foods. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb announced on Sept. 26 the change was in the works.
FDA joins the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), which been issuing retail lists for the past decade or so.
FSIS went to naming store names and towns when Dr. Richard Raymond, the former state medical officer for Nebraska, arrived in Washington D.C. as USDA’s Under Secretary for Food Safety. Raymond argued that without “name and town,” recall information provided to the public is all but worthless.
Gottlieb says FDA now recognizes “the importance of providing consumers with actionable information related to recalled food products.” The FDA has traditionally not revealed “certain supply chain information” because it was considered “confidential between the supplier and retailer.”
CDC has also changed-up its media policy by using a more short form “Food Safety Alert” to communicate before there is a full-blown investigative report.
CDC is the EF Hutton of food safety. When the agency talks, everybody listens. Trouble is the agency prefers having all of its ducks in a row before it issues a report, and it too often remains mum until some artificial date on the calendar that runs counter to the sort of daily reporting we do.
If the “Food Safety Alert” is a method for CDC going on the record more frequently, we are all for it.
Public Health Seattle-King County, long one of the country’s leading public health agencies, is going public with unfinished investigations. It’s could be a sign some of these old public health philosophies are changing.
What I know is the credibility of these agencies is important. I also know that with consistency comes credibility.
I always tell audiences that everything I’ve ever needed to know about government-media relations, I learned from former Pocatello Police Chief John Perkins.
Perkins was chief when the Idaho State Journal gave me my first daily newspaper job. Back in the day, I was one of the new ones assigned by ISJ to the police beat.
That assignment meant going first thing every morning to the Pocatello Police Department, long before going to the newspaper.
The first morning, Chief Perkins was waiting for me.
He showed me where the coffee was and then showed me where I could find all the incident reports from the previous 24 hours. Incident reports were mostly written by uniformed officers who arrive on the scene. Sometimes there would be an incident report written by someone further up the command structure.
Perkins kept nothing back. It was my job to find the most newsworthy in those reports and write it up. Until someone was arrested and arraigned in court, that first report on the incident would be the authoritative account on whatever went down.
Innocent people are often caught up in criminal incidents and get their names mentioned in crime stores as witnesses or victims. But Perkins preferred to let us write whatever the story was because that gave Pocatello Police their credibility.
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