Contempt for the Truth




A

s
has been much ballyhooed in recent months, the Bush administration
likes to keep “journalists” on retainer. The Department
of Education hired conservative commentator and columnist Armstrong
Williams to promote Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act on his
television program. The Department of Health and Human Services
paid conservative columnist Maggie Gallagher to write brochures
and to ghostwrite a magazine article promoting heterosexual marriage.
Gallagher also promoted Bush’s marriage initiative in her syndicated
columns. Likewise, Michael McManus, another conservative syndicated
columnist, was paid to promote Bush’s Community Healthy Marriage
Initiative and did so in his columns. 


Then
comes the story of Jeff Gannon or James Guckert or whatever his
name really is. 


Gannon/Guckert,
a “reporter” for

Talon News

and GOPUSA, was consistently
granted day passes to White House press briefings despite the fact
that the White House knew “Jeff Gannon” was a false name.
He continued to receive such passes and was selected to question
the president at a press conference, even after Ari Fleischer suspected
back in 2003 that Gannon/Guckert was a GOP shill. Fleischer’s
suspicions were dispelled, however, after Gannon/Guckert’s
boss, Texas GOP activist Bobby Eberle, assured Fleischer that everything
was legit. Apparently, Eberle’s word was good enough. 


Further
blurring the already thin line between news and propaganda, Bush’s
Office of National Drug Control Policy produced video news releases
(VNRs) that looked like actual news segments and discouraged the
use of illegal drugs. These VNRs were distributed to local news
stations, which “mistakenly” aired them as actual news.
Oops. Bush’s Department of Health and Human Services produced
its own VNRs, which included newscasts and interviews to promote
Bush’s Medicare reforms. The Government Accountability Office
ruled that both VNRs violated statutory propaganda prohibitions. 


Dissatisfied
with merely misleading the public, Bush has resorted to lying to
Congress as well. During the debates on Bush’s Medicare reforms,
Medicare’s chief actuary, Richard Foster, lied to Congress
about the estimated costs of the proposed reforms. As was later
revealed, Foster was ordered by his superiors at Health and Human
Services (HHS), under threat of reprisals, to withhold the cost
estimates from Congress. HHS officials claimed they had the legal
right to prevent the communication of truthful information to Congress.
Aside from completely subverting the principles of democracy by
forcing Congress to base a monumentally important decision on false
information, the Bush administration also violated federal law.
Not surprisingly, the Medicare legislation passed and the popping
of champagne corks could be heard from corporate boardrooms across
the U.S. Recently, the Bush administration revealed that the “new”
estimated cost of Medicare was hundreds of billions of dollars more
than it had originally claimed. 


In
the days immediately after September 11, 2001, the Environmental
Protection Agency lied about the air quality and the dangers it
posed to rescue and recovery workers. As concluded by the EPA’s
Inspector General, the White House “influenced” the EPA
to “add reassuring statements and delete cautionary ones.” 


Leading
up to the invasion of Iraq, President Bush included in his State
of the Union address knowingly false information about Iraq’s
attempts to acquire yellowcake from Niger. Secretary of State Colin
Powell presented to the United Nations patently false claims about
Iraqi mobile labs, which were known to be mere weather-monitoring
vehicles supplied by the British (a fact later acknowledged by Powell
on April 2, 2004). The Bush administration claimed Iraq had aluminum
tubes used for uranium enrichment despite the fact that the Department
of Energy concluded the tubes could not be used for such a purpose.
As a general matter, the Bush administration repeatedly accused
Iraq of harboring weapons of mass destruction despite the fact that
neither the IAEA nor UNMOVIC found evidence of prohibited weapons
programs. 


Of course, President
Bush and his Administration are not the first to lie and manipulate
information. They are, however, taking the practice of information
manipulation to new heights. For instance, in 2004 the Bush administration
spent 128 percent more on public relations than it did in 2000. In
his first term, Bush spent nearly twice as much on public relations
as Clinton, the previous champion of spin and manipulation. While
our government’s penchant for lying to satisfy its political
ends does not bode well for our so-called democracy, the media’s
complicity and the public’s apathy bode far worse.





Ken Sanders is
an attorney living in Tucson, Arizona.