Bush's War on the Press | The Nation


Bush's War on the Press

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Research support for this article was provided by the Investigative Fund of the Nation Institute.

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Eric Alterman
Eric Alterman
Eric Alterman is a Distinguished Professor of English, Brooklyn College, City University of New York, and Professor of...

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George Pataki’s campaign is a figment of his imagination. But that didn’t stop the press from covering it as if it were the real thing.

The issue of "lies" has been the most consistently clouded by the Administration's supporters in the conservative media, who refuse to report facts when they conflict with White House spin. It's true, as I show in my book When Presidents Lie: A History of Official Deception and Its Consequences, that many presidents have demonstrated an almost allergic reaction to accuracy. Still, the Bush Administration manages to set a new standard here as well, reducing reality to a series of inconvenient obstacles to be ignored in favor of ideological prejudices and political imperatives--and it has done so virtually across the entire executive branch. As Michael Kinsley noted way back in April 2002, "What's going on here is something like lying by reflex.... Bush II administration lies are often so laughably obvious that you wonder why they bother. Until you realize: They haven't bothered. If telling the truth was less bother, they'd try that too."

Rather than regurgitate that fruitless debate over the war--the deliberate untruths told by the Administration have been delineated ad nauseam--consider just two recent examples of its deception on matters relating to scientific and medical evidence:

§ Mercury emissions: When the EPA unveiled a rule to limit mercury emissions from power plants, Bush officials argued that anything more stringent than the EPA's proposed regulations would cost the industry far in excess of any conceivable benefit to public health. They hid the fact, however, that a Harvard study paid for by the EPA, co-written by an EPA scientist and peer-reviewed by two other EPA scientists, found exactly the opposite, estimating health benefits 100 times as great as the EPA did. Even more shocking, according to a GAO investigation, the EPA had failed to "quantify the human health benefits of decreased exposure to mercury, such as reduced incidence of developmental delays, learning disabilities, and neurological disorders."

§ Nuclear materials: The Los Angeles Times recently reported that government scientists apparently submitted phony data to demonstrate that a proposed nuclear waste dump in Nevada's Yucca Mountain would be safe. As with the EPA and mercury emissions, the Interior Department found unsatisfactory the results of a study from the Los Alamos National Laboratory concluding that rainwater moved through the mountain sufficiently quickly for radioactive isotopes to penetrate the ground in a few decades, so it just pretended it hadn't happened.

In these two emblematic cases, as it has done so many times before, the Administration simply issued its own pronouncements, ignored reality and went its merry way, damn the consequences both for the reality of its policies and for its own credibility. Those found guilty of deception did not mind the one-day story that would result demonstrating them to be liars any more than Vice President Cheney minded the fact that a videotape existed of him claiming on Meet the Press that the alleged Prague meeting between Mohammed Atta and an Iraqi intelligence official had been "pretty well confirmed" when he twice insisted, also on videotape, that he "never said that." And the political calculation turned out to be a good one. It was left to The Daily Show to run the two tapes of Cheney together. Reporters may have been angry at being lied to, but they returned the next day to swallow some more.

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