Secrets and Lies Becoming Commonplace

  1. Published on Monday, April 5, 2004 by CommonDreams.org
    Secrets and Lies Becoming Commonplace
    by Walter Cronkite

    The initial refusal of President Bush to let his national security adviser appear under oath before the 9/11 Commission might have been in keeping with a principle followed by other presidents -- the principle being, according to Bush, that calling his advisers to testify under oath is a congressional encroachment on the executive branch's turf.
    (Never mind that this commission is not a congressional body, but one he created and whose members he handpicked.)

    But standing on that principle has proved to be politically damaging, in part because this administration -- the most secretive since Richard Nixon's -- already suffers from a deepening credibility problem. It all brings to mind something I've wondered about for some time: Are secrecy and credibility natural enemies?

    When you stop to think about it, you keep secrets from people when you don't want them to know the truth. Secrets, even when legitimate and necessary, as in genuine national-security cases, are what you might call passive lies.

    Take the recent flap over Richard Foster, the Medicare official whose boss threatened to fire him if he revealed to Congress that the prescription-drug bill would be a lot more expensive than the administration claimed. The White House tried to pass it all off as the excessive and unauthorized action of Foster's supervisor (who shortly after the threatened firing left the government).

    Maybe. But the point is that the administration had the newer, higher numbers, and Congress had been misled. This was a clear case of secrecy being used to protect a lie. I can't help but wonder how many other faulty estimates by this administration have actually been misinformation explained as error.

    The Foster story followed by only a few weeks the case of the U.S. Park police chief who got the ax for telling a congressional staffer -- and The Washington Post -- that budget cuts planned for her department would impair its ability to perform its duties. Chief Teresa Chambers since has accepted forced retirement from government service.

    Isolated incidents? Not really. Looking back at the past three years reveals a pattern of secrecy and of dishonesty in the service of secrecy. Some New Yorkers felt they had been lied to following the horrific collapse of the World Trade Center towers. Proposed warnings by the Environmental Protection Agency -- that the air quality near ground zero might pose health hazards -- were watered down or deleted by the White House and replaced with the reassuring message that the air was safe to breathe.

    The EPA's own inspector general said later that the agency did not have sufficient data to claim the air was safe. However, the reassurance was in keeping with the president's defiant back-to-work/business-as-usual theme to demonstrate the nation's strength and resilience. It also was an early example of a Bush administration reflex described by one physicist as "never let science get in the way of policy."

    In April 2002, the EPA had prepared a nationwide warning about a brand of asbestos called Zonolite, which contained a form of the substance far more lethally dangerous than ordinary asbestos. However, reportedly at the last minute, the White House stopped the warning. Why? The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which broke the story, noted that the Bush administration at the time was pushing legislation limiting the asbestos manufacturer's liability. Whatever the reason, such silence by an agency charged with protecting our health is a silent lie in my book.

    One sometimes gets the impression that this administration believes that how it runs the government is its business and no one else's. It is certainly not the business of Congress. And if it's not the business of the people's representatives, it's certainly no business of yours or mine.

    But this is a dangerous condition for any representative democracy to find itself in. The tight control of information, as well as the dissemination of misleading information and outright falsehoods, conjures up a disturbing image of a very different kind of society.

    Democracies are not well-run nor long-preserved with secrecy and lies.
    Walter Cronkite was anchor of "CBS Evening News" for 19 years.
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  2. 20 Comments

  3. by   oramar
    I hate to buck the trend but I think secrets and lies are no more or less prevalent today than ten years ago or a hundred years ago. It is human nature to protect your position by lying. What has changed is that people are getting caught more often in their lies by all the information that is made available by the electronic media. I am not calling every person on the planet a liar by the way. I know people who are not capable or misleading anyone about anything and my dear hubby is one of them. He can be wrong about things sometimes but I have never known him to deliberately mislead anyone. Myself, I mislead others occasionally simple by not telling all. Some would say this is not lying but if you give someone a false impression by keeping silent it can have the same effect as lying.
  4. by   pickledpepperRN
    Oh yes!
    I don't like the spiky gelled hair many women my age think is cool. I do like and admire my friends who wear that style.
    Would I tell them?
    NO!

    I think Walter Cronkite is writing about our starting a war based on untruths.
    If the administration did not know there were no WMDs they should have known.
  5. by   Mkue
    Quote from spacenurse
    Oh yes!
    I don't like the spiky gelled hair many women my age think is cool. I do like and admire my friends who wear that style.
    Would I tell them?
    NO!

    I think Walter Cronkite is writing about our starting a war based on untruths.
    If the administration did not know there were no WMDs they should have known.
    Someone should explain to Walter that his beloved Clinton administration also believed that there were WMD in Iraq, so crying about untruths just isn't going to fly with me.
  6. by   pickledpepperRN
    Who is in power NOW?
    Who started a war with Iraq?

    Two wrongs do NOT make a right.
  7. by   wjf00
    Quote from mkue
    Someone should explain to Walter that his beloved Clinton administration also believed that there were WMD in Iraq, so crying about untruths just isn't going to fly with me.
    But Clinton didn't send Americans to die, Bush did.
  8. by   Mkue
    Quote from wjf00
    But Clinton didn't send Americans to die, Bush did.
    The Americans who President Bush sent to Iraq train to fight, they unselfishly sacrifice their lives for their country and put themselves in harms way when they are called to duty.

    So no, Clinton didn't send troops to Iraq, he also didn't liberate an entire country, he didn't overthrow Saddam Hussain and he didn't stop Iraq from developing weapons programs and he didn't stop Iraq from harboring terrorists.

    Clinton did send troops to Mogadishu and we all know what happend there.
  9. by   movealong
    The Bush adminstration has long been known for its secretiveness. While this is common to all politics, Bush stands out even among them. It is also known for going after any and leaks and being more ruthless about it. Reprisals are common too.

    I don't have the time right now to cite all the instances I am aware of, but have read numerous reports over the years on this matter. This complaints nt nly come from dems, and/or from indies, but from a variety of sources.
  10. by   molecule
    we won a 'war' and lost the occupation. we have united Sunni and Shia against the American "invaders"......Bush deceived himself and our country.
    there is no liberation, just conflict. Islamists have a wonderful opportunity to beat us just like they did the Soviets.

    by the way,mkue, check out about Somalia and get the facts straight
    "On December 4, with deteriorating security and the U.N. troops unable to control Somalia's warring factions, U.S. President George Bush ordered 25,000 U.S. troops into Somalia."
    http://www.historychannel.com/speech...speech_34.html
  11. by   fergus51
    Can Bush supporters ever say anything that doesn't start with "Well, Clinton....."?

    It seems to me they are admitting Bush was completely wrong about WMD in Iraq, but they just don't care cause Clinton was wrong too. I can't wrap my head around that one.
  12. by   Mkue
    Quote from fergus51
    Can Bush supporters ever say anything that doesn't start with "Well, Clinton....."?

    It seems to me they are admitting Bush was completely wrong about WMD in Iraq, but they just don't care cause Clinton was wrong too. I can't wrap my head around that one.
    Seriously, I believe that Clinton and Bush are both right about Saddam being a threat and that he was developing a WMD program..
  13. by   wjf00
    Quote from mkue

    Clinton did send troops to Mogadishu and we all know what happend there.
    No Clinton did not send those troops to Somalia, it was Bush 1 who sent troops into Somalia. Clinton inherited Bush-daddys mess. Just as Kerry will have to deal with Bush-baby's mess in Iraq.
  14. by   MellowOne
    Quote from wjf00
    No Clinton did not send those troops to Somalia, it was Bush 1 who sent troops into Somalia. Clinton inherited Bush-daddys mess. Just as Kerry will have to deal with Bush-baby's mess in Iraq.
    No, he won't. Kerry is going to have to deal with remaining a member of the minority party in the Senate. Further, he'll have to do so after spending a year spouting inflammatory nonsense and basically calling the President a lying traitor. Yeah, that's building a spirit of bipartisanship...

    Kerry is going to lose on the level of Mondale and Dukakis.

    Be well...

    The Mellow One

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