After the federal weather agency endorsed Donald Trump’s much-maligned tweet about Hurricane Dorian threatening Alabama, the president weighed in Saturday night with a cat video.
The clip featured a still image of Trump in the Oval Office Wednesday as he presented a forecast on the path and intensity of Hurricane Dorian. A cat was seen sitting atop a CNN logo and following the red dot of a laser pointer across the screen.
It was a day earlier that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in a statement that Trump was right to tweet last Sunday that “Alabama would “most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated” by Dorian. According to NOAA, information provided to the president and the public between Aug. 28 and Sept. 2 “demonstrated that tropical-storm-force winds from Hurricane Dorian could impact Alabama.”
In siding with Trump, NOAA admonished its National Weather Service office in Birmingham, Alabama, for contradicting the president with a subtweet minutes later saying, “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian.”
NOAA’s statement, which was unsigned, said: “The Birmingham National Weather Service’s Sunday morning tweet spoke in absolute terms that were inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time.”
Early NOAA projections had Dorian potentially reaching Alabama. And 24 hours after Trump’s tweet, the agency said there was still a 5 percent chance of tropical storm-force winds buffeting the southeast of the state.
However, at the time Trump tweeted, NOAA was not projecting that Dorian would hit Alabama, and in fact, the storm took a hard right turn before colliding with Florida, and stayed just off the east coast of the United States.
In response to fact-checks of his tweet in the media, Trump fired back on Twitter. Then, during a press conference from the Resolute Desk on Wednesday, he reiterated that Alabama had been at risk and showed reporters a map on which the forecast cone for Dorian had been extended into Alabama using a Sharpie pen.
A category 5 media storm
The Oval Office stunt triggered a wave of national media coverage, with op-eds criticizing Trump for “Orwellian” distortions of reality. In a series of reports on the issue, the Washington Post revealed that NOAA staffers had been directed not to contradict the president about Dorian just before his Alabama warning and, citing an anonymous White House official, that Trump was the man behind the Sharpie drawing.
Meanwhile, Trump continued to assail the “Fake News” media on Twitter, and on Thursday, the White House released a statement from Trump’s homeland security and counterterrorism adviser, Rear Adm. Peter Brown, defending the president’s initial warning to Alabama.
“While speaking to the press on Sunday, September 1, the President addressed Hurricane Dorian and its potential impact on multiple states, including Alabama,” Brown wrote. “The President’s comments were based on that morning’s Hurricane Dorian briefing, which included the possibility of tropical storm force winds in southeastern Alabama.”
When NOAA weighed in on behalf of Trump on Friday, the outcry only intensified. Former NOAA officials joined journalists and commentators in condemning the Trump administration.
The American Meteorological Society, the professional association of atmospheric scientists and weather forecasters, issued a statement of support for Weather Service employees.
“AMS believes the criticism of the Birmingham forecast office is unwarranted; rather they should have been commended for their quick action based on science in clearly communicating the lack of threat to the citizens of Alabama,” the statement said.
Three former NOAA heads expressed concern that Trump was politicizing the work of NOAA and other federal agencies, thereby undermining the morale of bureaucrats and the trust of the public.
Kathryn Sullivan, who helmed NOAA under President Barack Obama, said that the agency has always been committed “to not let any political factors sway the scientific credibility and clarity of Weather Service forecasts and warnings.”
“The anonymous and disingenuous statement NOAA tweeted out is a major breach of scientific integrity that damages the NWS and stains the agency’s leadership,” she said.
A fourth NOAA head, Vice Adm. Conrad Lautenbacher, who served under President George W. Bush, opted not to take sides in the matter, but expressed full confidence in the National Weather Service.
“The NWS meteorology experts retain my complete faith providing forecasts and particularly with regard to severe weather events!” he wrote in a message to the Capital Weather Gang.
David Titley, who served as the chief operating officer of NOAA in 2012 and 2013, also condemned Trump and the agency’s current leadership.
Perhaps the darkest day ever for @noaa leadership. Don’t know how they will ever look their workforce in the eye again. Moral cowardice.
— David Titley (@dwtitley) September 6, 2019
Trump divides the internet with his cat meme in response to NOAA
On Twitter, Trump’s cat meme went viral, earning 4.5 million views and 113,000 likes and 31,000 retweets. Apparently flagged for Trump by a supportive user, the meme was understood as a troll of the media, and particularly CNN, for getting so easily played by the president.
Critics reacted with shock and disgust.
Is this seriously a tweet from the president of the United States?
— Elizabeth Vargas (@EVargasTV) September 8, 2019
Some called for him to be removed from office.
— Ann Lewis Hamilton (@AnnLHamilton) September 8, 2019
However, conservatives expressed something more like shock and awe.
imagine trying to explain this tweet from the President of the United States to someone 10 years ago? https://t.co/COluTOr4Sn
— Caleb Hull (@CalebJHull) September 8, 2019
Trump’s most devoted fans thanked him for refusing to back down to the media.
Thank you President Trump!!! pic.twitter.com/AzgBUsWYyt
— oregon4TRUMP (@shawgerald4) September 8, 2019
One purportedly neutral observer offered: “Hate or love this man, you can’t deny that he has a sense of humor.”