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Gov. Healey’s Office Ordered Takedown of MBTA Podcast, Emails Confirm

12:48 PM EST on December 1, 2023

A promo image for the new "Spilling the T" podcast shows a sloshing teacup with a radio microphone coming out of it on a yellow background n the left and a headshot of MBTA General Manager Phillip Eng on the right. Text: "Spilling the T and MBTA podcast"

Courtesy of the MBTA

Internal emails obtained through a public records request have confirmed that Governor Healey's office ordered the deletion of audio files and promotional social media posts after the T attempted to launch its new podcast in October.

On October 5th, the T's social media accounts started to promote a brand-new podcast program, titled "Spilling the T," which promised a "backstage pass to understanding the complexities and nuances of operating one of the busiest transit systems in the nation."

But within a few hours, the program was abruptly scrubbed from the internet, and the T deleted its earlier social media posts.

When we asked why, the MBTA's press office declined to offer any on-the-record explanation.

But thanks to a public records request submitted by StreetsblogMASS reader Ian Hunt-Isaak, we now have internal emails that show why the T's press office couldn't talk about it: because the Governor's office had directed them to send the podcast down a memory hole.

In an email delivered at 9:12 a.m. on October 5, Andrew Cassidy, the MBTA's Senior Director of Digital Strategy & Engagement and the creator of the "Spilling the T" podcast, wrote this to Danny Levy, the T's Chief Customer Officer:

Screenshot of an email from a public records request. The text of the email reads:    Good morning Danny,Per your conversation with the Governor’s Office this morning, under their direction, the Spilling the T podcast has been removed from all platforms. Some RSS feeds might take a little time to refresh, but the linked files are gone. Despite going against our Social Media policy, at their request, all associated social content has been deleted and screens are in the process of being taken down.     As an FYI, some members of the media did see the podcast go live, so the T should be prepared to answer questions as to why it was deleted - especially given it was framed as a step towards increased transparency.        Thanks, AndrewA signature line at the bottom reads: "Senior Director of Digital Strategy & Engagement, Customer Experience Department, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority"

Good morning Danny,

Per your conversation with the Governor’s Office this morning, under their direction, the Spilling the T podcast has been removed from all platforms... Despite going against our Social Media policy, at their request, all associated social content has been deleted and screens are in the process of being taken down.

As an FYI, some members of the media did see the podcast go live, so the T should be prepared to answer questions as to why it was deleted - especially given it was framed as a step towards increased transparency.

October 5 email from Andrew Cassidy to Danny Levy

StreetsblogMASS reached out to the Governor's press office on Thursday to ask what they found objectionable about the podcast, and whether the Governor's office frequently interferes in the MBTA's transparency efforts.

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for the Governor wrote that "the Governor's Office and MBTA frequently collaborate on strategic communications initiatives to ensure that the people of Massachusetts are receiving timely, accurate and comprehensive information."

The spokesperson added that the podcast episode was published "prematurely" and was officially re-published on October 18.

Thanks to a reader who had downloaded the file before it had been scrubbed from the internet, StreetsblogMASS was able to publish a samizdat copy of the same episode on October 6.

There appears to be no difference between that audio file and the officially-sanctioned podcast episode that the T published two weeks later.

"I hope, moving forward, that the T has the independence to honestly communicate with riders," says Jarred Johnson, executive director of TransitMatters.

Johnson notes that other transit agencies that have struggled with reliability issues have been able to earn riders' trust by being "frank and honest" about the challenges that they face.

"Nobody should get in the way of letting the T do a better job of communicating and trying to be transparent," said Johnson.

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