No News is Bad News

BY Joel Bleifuss

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The Bush White House has turned hiding politically unpalatable—or embarrassing—information into an art form.

The list is long: The lies about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. The still-secret meetings of Dick Cheney’s energy task force. What exactly is going on in U.S.-run prisons in Afghanistan and Iraq.

And we would know more about Bush administration perfidy had Attorney General John Ashcroft in October 2001 not issued a memorandum directing all federal agencies to carefully scrutinize all Freedom of Information Act requests. In it he offered to support any agency’s decision not to release information as long as a legal basis for a refusal could be cited.

With FOIA requests languishing, the press has had to rely on leaks.

There are leaks about global warming, the planetary danger that the Bush administration would prefer you not consider. (See “Listen to the Canary” on page 14.)

Also recall June 2003, when someone in the EPA leaked White House edits of an EPA report on the state of the environment. The White House deleted the sentences in the report that referred to a 1999 study showing global temperatures had risen sharply. They also took out the evidence that connected global warming to the burning of fossil fuels like oil and gas, replacing it with information from a study financed by the American Petroleum Institute and Exxon-Mobil.

In the end, however, an unnamed official explained to the New York Times, the EPA decided to take out the whole section on global warming “to avoid criticism that they were selectively filtering science to suit policy.”

Then there are leaks about how the administration selectively favors friends. Time recently obtained a copy of the March 5, 2003, internal Pentagon e-mail in which an Army Corps of Engineers official explained that Halliburton, Vice President Dick Cheney’s former employer, was set to receive a contract to get the oil flowing in Iraq. According to the e-mail, Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith arranged approval of the contract, part of a program known as Restore Iraqi Oil. The Army Corps official wrote that the contract is “contingent on informing WH [White House] tomorrow. We anticipate no issues since action has been coordinated w[ith] VP’s office.” That coordinated action netted Halliburton a multi-billion-dollar contract.

And there are leaks that reveal how compassionate this conservative administration is not. At the Washington Post, an Office of Management and Budget memorandum recently came over the transom. It instructed all government agencies that run domestic programs to cut their 2006 budgets by proscribed amounts. “The cuts are politically sensitive,” reports the Post’s Jonathan Weisman, “targeting popular programs that Bush has been touting on the campaign trail.” Destined for the chopping block, should Bush be reelected, are the Education Department, a nutrition program for women, infants and children (WIC), Head Start, and homeownership, job-training, medical research and science programs. For example, Head Start, which helps improve the educational success of poor children, is slated for a $177 million (2.5 percent) budget cut in 2006.

These domestic programs that benefit the poor and middle class must be cut, of course, because the administration needs to make up for the loss in federal revenue created by the Bush tax cuts.

Exactly how much richer the rich are getting thanks those cuts is hard to know, because someone in the White House has instructed the Treasury Department to stop releasing to the public data on how the tax cuts are distributed by income level.

Syndicated columnist Paul Krugman observed: “Of course, voters would never support this agenda if they understood it. That’s why dishonesty … is such a central feature of the White House political strategy.”

That’s the strategy. Here’s the motto: “What you don’t know can’t hurt us.”


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Joel Bleifuss, a former director of the Peace Studies Program at the University of Missouri-Columbia, is the editor & publisher of In These Times, where he has worked since October 1986.

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