Further and further down the memory hole

Two new instances of the Bush Administration making inconvenient documents disappear from the Net:

Kevin Drum reports on an interview with the Andrew Natsios of AID claiming that Iraqi reconstruction wouldn’t cost any more than $1.7 billion and dismissing larger numbes as “hoopla.” He provides a link to the Google cache of the text of the interview as posted on the AID webside.

Fred Kaplan in Slate discusses an official Army “lessons learned” document about human intelligence gathering in Afghanistan, scrubbed from the Army website after the Washington Post reported on its devastating conclusions. Fortunately, John Pike’s Globalsecurity.org kept an electronic copy.

In each case, the original document was archived, so it’s still available for diligent searchers, but anyone just looking through the official websites would no longer find either one. And these, of course, are cases we know about only because the archived files exist. When “memory hole” activity succeeds, it does so silently.

Last week I posted a note at Open Source Politics listing a number of ways in which the Bush Administration had sought to deceive the voters, misdirect their attention, or keep information from them. Some of the commenters there thought I was being unfair because not every instance I cited involved a direct verbal lie.

That shouldn’t be the standard. The standard ought to be that our public officials work for us, and owe us as complete and accurate a statement of the truth as possible, limited only by the need to protect actual state secrets. When they behave otherwise, they are acting disrespectfully towards us, their bosses.

No administration meets that standard fully. But the Bush Administration, I submit, falls farther short of it than most, and every time we catch it manipulating the public record we ought to call them on it.

The polls continue to show that the voters think that Bush is of good moral character personally, despite their discontent with his performance in office. Perhaps they understand that he runs an administration where mendacity is treated as a family value, and just don’t associate deception by politicians with bad moral character, or perhaps they misunderestimate the extent to which Bush and his aides make up for their profligacy with public funds by observing a strict economy with respect to the truth. Probably, both are the case.

But that just makes it more important for journalists and Democratic candidates to insist, and keep insisting, that truthfulness from officeholders is an esssential virtue to the maintenance of a republic, and that the current administration (and its Congressional and journalistic allies) spectacularly lack that virtue.

More from Thorswitch at Different Strings: the transcript of Bush’s speech to the Australian Parliarment quoted him as saying: “We see a China that is stable and prosperous, a nation that respects the peace of its neighbors and works to secure the freedom of its own people.” The transcript now has the words “We seek” instead. In this instance, it seems to me that the original transcript was in error; the “we seek” formula is used in another place in the same speech. But it’s still wrong to make an alteration in a public document without a note to indicate the alteration was made.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

2 thoughts on “Further and further down the memory hole”

  1. The real reason they think Bush is of good moral character.

    Mark, the real problem, IMHO, is lack of healthy skepticism.

    The polls continue to show that the voters think that Bush is of
    good moral character personally, despite their discontent with his
    performance in office. Perhaps…

  2. More governmental scrubbing

    More evidence today of the government scrubbing various web pages of potentially embarrassing information. 1. Kevin Drum at Calpundit notes that the USAID (United States Agency for International Development) has removed the transcript of an interview b…

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