The latest fake news meltdown comes from Gizmodo, which breathlessly reported that President-elect Donald Trump fired the people responsible for maintaining America’s nuclear arsenal.
Between the Trump transition team’s infighting, incompetence, and high-profile resignations, any decisions that signaled even a modicum of stability for the country would come as a relief at this point. Unfortunately, the nascent Trump Administration isn’t inclined to calm anyone’s nerves. According to an official within the Department of Energy, this past Friday, the President-elect’s team instructed the head of the National Nuclear Security Administration and his deputy to clean out their desks when Trump takes office on January 20th.
The NNSA is the $12 billion-a-year agency that “maintains and enhances the safety, security, and effectiveness of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile.” It’s unclear when the two officials will be replaced.
Gizmodo said Trump “appears determined to be free of anyone who was appointed by Obama, regardless of whether or not he has anyone in line for the job,” and quoted a nameless “source” who said his sacking of the nuclear stewards showed a “shocking disregard for process and continuity of government.”
More colorfully, the source declared, “I’m more and more coming around to the idea that we’re so very very f***ed.”
Yikes! Nuclear weapons left lying unattended for months, just because Trump wants to kick all the Obama people out of office? Will no one step forward to stop this modern-day Dr. Strangelove?
As it turns out, someone’s f***ed, but it’s because of journalistic bombs, not nuclear warheads. A whopper of a correction soon appeared at the end of the story:
Another NNSA official, speaking on background to Gizmodo and Defense News, has disputed this report as “inaccurate” while confirming that “there have been no discussions between the president-elect’s transition team and any of NNSA’s political appointees on extending their public service past Jan. 20.” In other words, the Trump transition team has not asked the top two NNSA officials to stay on until they can be replaced.
After speaking to our source for clarification, we have updated the story and headline to reflect that, while Klotz and Creedon have submitted their resignations, intend to depart on January 20, and have not been asked by the Trump transition to stay past that date, the Trump team has not explicitly instructed them to leave or “clean out their desks,” as we reported. According to our source, both officials “have expressed [to the Trump team] that they would likely be willing to stay to facilitate a smooth transition, if asked,” as is the tradition for key officials, and have received no response. [emphasis added]
The headline was changed from “Trump Just Dismissed the People in Charge of Maintaining Our Nuclear Arsenal” to “Trump is Letting Go the People in Charge of Maintaining Our Nuclear Arsenal.” It’s still wildly misleading (not to mention clumsy), since most people understand “let go” to be a euphemism for “fired,” and it still doesn’t make clear that we’re talking about a few political appointees, not the entire nuclear weapons maintenance team.
Quite a few of the other outlets that picked up Gizmodo’s false report made the headline even more aggressively incorrect, claiming Trump had simply “fired” the people in charge of America’s nuclear weapons. Many of them don’t seem to have noticed Gizmodo’s correction.
This is strongly reminiscent of the freak-out about Trump supposedly endangering American relations around the world by firing all the U.S. ambassadors – a story Gizmodo actually references during its contribution to the fake news genre. A remarkable number of media outlets simply forgot to mention that Barack Obama also let George W. Bush’s politically-appointed ambassadors go.