Editor's note: This story has been updated December 19 with additional commentary.
WASHINGTON, D.C., December 18, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – On Thursday the White House advised the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to discontinue the use of seven words in all documentation the agency was preparing for next year’s budget, according to the Washington Post.
A proposed style guide allegedly created by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to use in budget proposals suggests that the words “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based” be avoided.
“The question of how to address such issues as sexual orientation, gender identity and abortion rights — all of which received significant visibility under the Obama administration — has surfaced repeatedly in federal agencies since President Trump took office,” according to a report in the Washington Post. “Several key departments — including HHS, as well as Justice, Education, and Housing and Urban Development — have changed some federal policies and how they collect government information about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.”
“In March, for example, HHS dropped questions about sexual orientation and gender identity in two surveys of elderly people,” the report continues. “HHS has also removed information about LGBT Americans from its website. The department’s Administration for Children and Families, for example, archived a page that outlined federal services that are available for LGBT people and their families, including how they can adopt and receive help if they are the victims of sex trafficking.”
But Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, insisted that despite reports, there are “no banned words” in a series of tweets on Sunday. “CDC has a long-standing history of making public health and budget decisions that are based on the best available science and data and for the benefit of all people—and we will continue to do so.”
“I want to assure you that CDC remains committed to our public health mission as a science- and evidence-based institution,” said Fitzgerald in an email sent to agency employees on Saturday night. “As part of our commitment to provide for the common defense of the country against health threats, science is and will remain the foundation of our work.”
Although the White House directive concerned only the writing of the agency’s proposed budget, fears arose that something sinister was going on. As the weekend drew to a close, George Orwell’s name was invoked as the Trump Administration was accused of the “1984” tactic of controlling language to control personal thought and society more broadly.
“Health leaders say they are alarmed” trumpeted the lede in an Associated Press (AP) report, “about being told not to use certain words or phrases in official budget documents.”
These things matter “because the words that we use ultimately describe what we care about and what we think are priorities,” said Dr. Sandro Galea, dean of Boston University's School of Public Health, according to the AP report. “If you are saying you cannot use words like 'transgender' and 'diversity,' it's a clear statement that you cannot pay attention to these issues.”
“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 C.D.C. does,” a former official told the New York Times, calling the move unprecedented. “They’re saying not to use it in your request for money because it will hurt you. It’s not about censoring what C.D.C. can say to the American public. It’s about a budget strategy to get funded.”
In an article for The Corner, Yuval Levin said that the impression created by the Post's story that the Trump Administration is banning certain words is “not accurate.”
What seems to have happened here involves two sets of circumstances. First, the budget office at HHS sent the various divisions of the department a style guide to use in their budget-proposal language and 'congressional justification' documents for the coming year. That style guide, which sets out a standard style for everything from capitalization of the titles of key offices to some commonly disputed points of grammar and punctuation, also sets out some words to be avoided. These, I am told, are avoided because they are frequently misused or regularly overused in departmental documents (make of that what you will) and they include three terms on the Post’s list: “vulnerable,” “diversity,” and “entitlement.” The style guide does not prohibit the use of these terms, but it says they should be used only when alternatives (which it proposes in some cases) cannot be.
“In other words, what happened regarding these other terms ('transgender,' 'fetus,' 'evidence-based,' and 'science-based') was not that retrograde. Republicans ordered career CDC officials not to use these terms but that career CDC officials assumed retrograde Republicans would be triggered by such words and, in an effort to avoid having such Republicans cut their budgets, reasoned they might be best avoided,” he wrote.