First, with this crack down on leaks, what is the Administration going to do the next time it wants to reveal the identity of a covert CIA operative where it is useful in embarrassing a critic of the Administration?In a post in which I wrote about the Bush administration's efforts to restrict the public's access to information I stated, "a functioning democracy is predicated on the notion that the public has the information neccesary to allow them to fulfill their civic duties, yet the public is now being denied access to information at an unprecedented rate," and concluded by asking:
This Administration that is cracking down on leaks is also an administration that leaks information when it serves a political purpose. Yet, it is doubtful that this crackdown will include those within the administration who has authorized or participated in these leaks.
This suggests that the Bush Administration is not actually interested in a crackdown against leaks. "Leaking information to the press" and “receiving leaked information” are not the crimes that this administration is actually seeking to punish. Rather, the crimes it seeks to punish are "revealing and/or receiving information that embarrasses the Administration". Those who leak information in ways that benefit the Administration will get an instant get-out-of-jail-free card. Only those who give information opposed to the Administration will be tracked down and punished.
This means that reporters, when they receive information, are going to have to make an evaluation. After hearing classified information, they will have to ask themselves, "Does this benefit the Administration?" If it does, then they will be able to receive the information and print it without repercussions.
If, however, they see the information as damaging to the Administration, they should take this as evidence that they are taking their freedom into their own hands if they should let the information out.From this, we can rest assured that we, the public, are going to hear more pro-Administration information and less anti-Administration information. From this, we are somehow supposed to make an informed decision as to the quality of the work that this Administration does.
How can the public hold its representatives accountable for their actions if the public does not know what they are? How can citizens participate in the democratic process if they do not know what is going on?Alonzo also expanded on this theme (bold emphasis mine)
Second, there is a fundamental conflict between a secret government and a democratic nation. In a democracy, the people decide what type of government they want. It is axiomatic that the people cannot make an informed decision unless they have information. Controlling information is a way of controlling the voter. It is a tool in an attempt to undermine democracy by depriving the people of the most important thing they need to make democracy work.In the comments section of Alonzo's post you'll notice I express frustration that there seems to be no public outrage over this and ask what might be the reason. Alonzo suggested that it might have something to do with the President's strong ties to religion, an answer that I find totally unsatisfying.
I'm sorry to say, I think the answer is that people just don't seem to mind that much, maybe because many have forgotten how a democracy is supposed to work in the first place.
Which brings me back to something I've been thinking about all week. A little over a week ago, the New York Times ran a story (which I blogged about here) about Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton and Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns announcing "the first net increase in wetlands since the Fish and Wildlife Service started measuring them in 1954" despite there actually being a net loss of 523,500 acres of swamps and tidal marshes. The reason they did this is because they counted 715,300 acres of "shallow-water wetlands" aka ponds and man-made ponds, including golf course water hazards.
In this story, we have a clear and undeniable instance of the administration trying to conceal a factual truth and replace it with a deliberate lie in an effort to create a false reality. Such an action is antithetical to and incompatible with democracy. In a liberal democracy, we are supposed to make decisions about policies based upon consideration of their real world consequences. Regardless of whether or not you care if the wetlands are decreasing, one should care about our leaders lying to us in an effort to subvert the democratic process.
Think about what the purpose of this lie is. Its purpose is to fabricate a reality that will allow officials to institute policy that suits the ideological interests of this administration, while hiding the consequences of that policy from the public, who might not agree to it if they were aware of what the truth of the situtation was. If you consider that for a moment, you can see the germ of every thing that is wrong with this adminstration.
Yet there will be no consequence for this action. No one will be held accountable. Indeed, the public will likely never know, or care to know. But that's the absurdity of it. In a democratic society, shouldn't lies like this be simply intolerable? Shouldn't any individual in government who is caught engaging in such a blatant deceit be shamed into contrition or resignation?
If we tolerate lies that we catch, what kind of incentive does that give people in power to tell the truth? In a previous post about gov't secrecy I quoted Walter Lippman writing in 1919 that "there can be no liberty for a community which lacks the information by which to detect lies." Well, how much liberty can there be for a society which doesn't care about being lied to in the first place?