The Trump administration drew the ire of progressives Friday when the Washington Post reported that officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were given a list of seven words that could not be used in official documents concerning the agency’s budget: “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.”
The move, a second Washington Post report revealed, reportedly reflects a larger attempt to tamper down on speech and impose more conservative terminology throughout the federal government under President Donald Trump.
A member of Trump’s cabinet, however, responded to the ban Sunday by saying that the practice of banning certain words hadn’t spread to his own agency. When Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin was asked about the CDC’s banned words in an interview on CNN’s State of the Union, he responded that he was “not aware of that directive at all.”
When host Jake Tapper followed up by asking whether the Trump administration had ever asked Mnuchin not to “use certain words,” however, the Treasury secretary said that such an order had never taken place.
“Absolutely not. Nobody’s told me not to use certain words, and I’ve never told anybody in Treasury not to use certain words,” Mnuchin said.
According to the Post’s initial report, officials at the CDC were given alternative terms in certain cases, such as saying that the “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes” in lieu of “science-based.” The move is likely to have an effect on research taking place within several departments of the CDC, including research on the effect of Zika virus on fetuses and preventing HIV/AIDS among the transgender population.
The list of “forbidden words” has reportedly spread to multiple divisions within the Department of Health and Human Services, the Post later reported. The word ban follows previous instances of the HHS restricting the collection and publication of information regarding LGBTQ Americans under the Trump administration, the initial Post report noted, such as removing information about LGBT Americans from its website and dropping questions about sexual orientation and gender identity from surveys.
Outside of the HHS, the Post revealed that the State Department is also imposing conservative terminology and beliefs on the agency’s operations. The department repeatedly referred to sex education as “sexual risk avoidance” in a guidance document outlining how to develop country plans for the President’s Plan for Emergency AIDS Relief, the Post reported — a term that has previously been defined in Congress as “abstinence-only practices until marriage, as the primary form of sex education.”
In its own report on the list of words at the CDC, the New York Times cited officials who suggested the directive was not a formal ban on those words, but rather “recommendations to avoid some language to ease the path toward budget approval by Republicans.”
“It’s absurd and Orwellian, it’s stupid and Orwellian, but they are not saying to not use the words in reports or articles or scientific publications or anything else the CDC does,” an unnamed former federal official told the Times. “They’re saying not to use it in your request for money because it will hurt you. It’s not about censoring what CDC can say to the American public. It’s about a budget strategy to get funded.”
Regardless of whether the directive is a formal ban or not, however, critics are decrying the “unprecedented” move as a dangerous setback for the nation’s scientists.
“Whether this is a directive from above is not clear,’’ former Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy told the Times. “But for CDC or any agency to be censored or passively made to feel they have to self-censor to avoid retribution — that’s dangerous and not acceptable. The purpose of science is to search for truth, and when science is censored the truth is censored.”