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The Fog of Transparency: Why Did the Healey Administration Memory-Hole the MBTA’s New Podcast?

An official MBTA podcast that aspired to "transparency, open communication, and continuous improvement" appears to have been a little too transparent for someone in the Healey administration.

A logo for the new "Spilling the T" podcast shows a sloshing teacup with a radio microphone coming out of it on a yellow background. Text: "Spilling the T and MBTA podcast"

The logo for the samizdat “Spilling the T” podcast. Courtesy of the MBTA and Soundcloud.

On Wednesday, a brand-new podcast program from the MBTA, titled "Spilling the T," appeared on SoundCloud.

The podcast's first episode featured an interview with General Manager Phillip Eng, and promised a "backstage pass to understanding the complexities and nuances of operating one of the busiest transit systems in the nation."

"At the MBTA, we believe in transparency, open communication, and continuous improvement," reads the podcast description. "That's why we've created this podcast."

But somebody in state government thought the new podcast offered a little too much transparency.

On Thursday morning, after several of the MBTA's social media channels posted promotional clips from the new podcast, the program was abruptly removed from the internet, and the T deleted its earlier social media posts.

The MBTA's new podcast had abruptly become samizdat.

A promotional video for the MBTA's new "Spilling the T" podcast that was posted on Twitter at 8 a.m. Thursday morning. The tweet has since been deleted, but the media file for this promotional clip was still available on Twitter's servers several hours later.

Still, numerous traces of the podcast still remain on the internet, including this promotional video that the T had shared on social media on Thursday morning (above) and screenshots of the MBTA's deleted tweet.

The Soundcloud webpage where the episode had been posted now says that the audio track is missing, but the Soundcloud homepage for the podcast is still up.

Google also cached a copy of the inaugural episode's webpage early Thursday morning, before it got deleted. Metadata in that cached webpage includes a description of the deleted episode.

"In the inaugural episode of the Spilling the T podcast, we speak with MBTA General Manager Philip Eng, who shares his plans for the Authority, and tells us about his innovative roadmap for success that will increase safety and reliability, and get riders where they need to go," according to the cached episode description.

Podcasts typically take hours to produce. The MBTA's professional communications staff would have had to put considerable work into recording, editing, and vetting the podcast, then preparing customized promotional materials for social media.

"I would find it extremely difficult to believe that this podcast was published accidentally because it wasn't ready yet," Jarred Johnson, executive director of TransitMatters, told StreetsblogMASS in a phone call on Thursday. "Our problem in the past is that the T has been overly cautious in its communications... It raises some questions about what kind of interference is happening."

StreetsblogMASS has reached out to Governor Healey's press office and the MBTA's press office for clarification on what happened, but nobody wanted to give us an on-the-record response.

This story will be updated if and when they decide to provide some transparency.

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