When you don’t like the facts - just change them

Tracy Van Slyke

From Think Progress: The White House's White-Out Problem The Bush administration has gotten into the nasty habit of doctoring its reports whenever the facts don't match its preconceived agenda. Here are some instances of the White House's magic pen at work: Cattle Grazing: "The Bush administration altered critical portions of a scientific analysis of the environmental impact of cattle grazing on public lands before announcing relaxed grazing limits on those lands, according to scientists involved in the study…conclusions that the proposed rules might adversely affect water quality and wildlife, including endangered species, were excised and replaced with language justifying less-stringent regulations favored by cattle ranchers." Hog Farming: Nationally respected Agriculture Department microbiologist Dr. Zahn discovered that hog farms were emitting drug-resistant airborne bacteria that "if breathed by humans, would make them harder to treat when ill. Zahn presented his findings at a scientific conference in 2000, but the Bush administration stopped him from publishing his data 11 times between September 2001 and April 2002, he said. When Danish researchers sought to learn more about his work, Zahn wasn't allowed to share his techniques." Climate Change: "A White House official who once led the oil industry's fight against limits on greenhouse gases has repeatedly edited government climate reports in ways that play down links between such emissions and global warming, according to internal documents…[The] official, Philip A. Cooney, removed or adjusted descriptions of climate research that government scientists and their supervisors, including some senior Bush administration officials, had already approved. In many cases, the changes appeared in the final reports." Air Quality at Ground Zero: "In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center, the White House instructed the Environmental Protection Agency to give the public misleading information, telling New Yorkers it was safe to breathe when reliable information on air quality was not available. That finding is included in a report released Friday by the Office of the Inspector General of the EPA. It noted that some of the agency's news releases in the weeks after the attack were softened before being released to the public: Reassuring information was added, while cautionary information was deleted." Toxicology of Mercury: "The White House and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) made changes to a report from the National Academy of Sciences on the toxicology of mercury, a powerful neurotoxin that is especially dangerous to pregnant women and young children…White House staff made editorial interventions in the report, which was commissioned by Congress to establish the science on the risks associated with mercury. The White House's alterations downplayed the risks of mercury, replaced specific enumerations of mercury-related harms with bland, general references, and introduced additional emphasis on uncertainty." Effectiveness of Condoms: "The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and USAID have removed or revised fact sheets on condoms, excising information about their effectiveness in disease prevention, and promoting abstinence instead." Effects of Oil Drilling on the Arctic Refuge: "Interior Secretary Gale Norton substantially altered biological findings from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concerning effects of oil development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge before she transmitted them to Congress, according to documents released October 19 by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility." In one instance, Norton's defense was that she "simply made an error in her testimony – saying 'outside' when she meant to say 'inside.'" Abortion: "The removal from a National Cancer Institute website of a scientific analysis concluding that abortions do not increase a woman's risk of breast cancer. That move, in November 2002, contradicted the broad medical consensus, and members of Congress protested the change. In response, the NCI updated its website to include the conclusion of a panel of experts that induced abortion is not associated with an increase in breast cancer risk." HIV/AIDS: "During the latter half of 2002, the Administration began removing scientific information, relating to the spread of HIV, from government websites, including those of the Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health. Much of the information that was removed contracted [sic] claims made by the administration's abstinence-only agenda." Cancer: Earlier this year, "EPA's guidelines acknowledge[d], for the first time, that children under 2 years of age are 10 times more likely to get cancer from certain chemicals than adults who are similarly exposed. But the White House Office of Management and Budget undermined that acknowledgment by inserting language in the guidelines that make it easy for industry to block EPA from following them when assessing cancer-causing chemicals." Stem Cell Research: "[The] Bush administration dismissed Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn, a leading cell biologist, and Dr. William May, a prominent medical ethicist, from the President's Council on Bioethics…[Blackburn] was removed from the panel soon after she objected to a Council report on stem cell research. In an essay in the April 1, 2004, issue of The New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Blackburn recounted how the dissenting opinion she submitted, which she believes reflects the scientific consensus in America, was not included in the council's reports even though she had been told the reports would represent the views of all the council's members." Ground-Water: Vice President Dick Cheney's old company Halliburton "pioneered" an oil-drilling technique that "can contaminate drinking water supplies with carcinogens and is therefore required by law to be regulated by the EPA." Halliburton has spent years trying to get the federal government to exempt the technique from environmental regulations." A senior Environmental Protection Agency recently revealed that "the EPA [initially concluded] that the technique can be dangerous to public health, but then [deleted] the conclusion after Cheney's office demanded it." Furthermore, six of the seven EPA panel members who decided that the technique was "safe" had all come from the energy industry.

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Tracy Van Slyke, a former publisher of In These Times, is the project director for The Media Consortium.
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