White House is editing our information


Leonard Pitts Jr.

Black people get crappy health care.

If this comes as news to you, it’s probably because you haven’t been paying attention. Numerous studies have documented the fact that, regardless of income levels and across a wide range of illnesses, blacks and other minorities have less access to medical treatment and the treatment they do receive is often substandard.

You can read about it in Dr. Allen Gifford’s 2002 study of HIV clinical trials, Georgetown University’s 1999 report on cardiac care, or the 2002 study released by the Institute of Medicine. But the one place you won’t read about it is in a new study of racial disparities in health care released by the federal government.

According to the Washington Post, top officials in the Bush administration pressured the Department of Health and Human Services to revise an early draft of the study in order to play down questions of inequity. So out went references to racial disparities, out went talk of bias among health-care providers, out went a passage describing the health gap as a national problem.

The result: A report that offers little criticism of a health-care establishment that plainly values black and brown lives less than others.

Representatives for Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson say the report was changed because the secretary wants — I kid you not — to accentuate the positive.

And if this sounds like deja vu all over again, well, there’s a reason for that. Consider:

When the Environmental Protection Agency issued a statement on the quality of asbestos-tainted air at Ground Zero, the White House leaned on the agency to remove cautionary language contributed by EPA scientists. The White House also tried to chop up a 2003 EPA study in order to de-emphasize the dangers of global warming.

There’s more. A 2002 report in The New York Times found apparent administration editing of a National Cancer Institute Web site. A statement that originally said science had found no link between abortion and breast cancer had been changed to say that the evidence was inconclusive. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Web site once reported researchers could find no link between education about condom use and increased sexual activity. That line was removed.

None of which would bother me if I thought for a minute the edits were made because new research dictated it. But it’s politics that’s doing the dictation here.

We all like to embrace those facts that confirm what we believe. But character can often be inferred from how we handle those facts that don’t. How does an intellectually honest person incorporate those?

The Bush administration doesn’t even try. It just ignores them, cuts them, makes them disappear.

If that doesn’t scare you, it should. How can we trust the judgment of a White House so indifferent to any information that doesn’t fit its worldview?

It used to be snickered by some that George W. was not exactly the sharpest knife in the cutlery drawer. But this is not stupidity you see here. Rather, it’s the willful ignorance ideological rigidity demands, the readiness to charge full-speed ahead with blinders on. And to what end?

Truth doesn’t change its essential character because you tell it to. Facts don’t cease being facts because you cut them from a report.

All that is expressed by those actions is a disregard bordering on contempt for the people and their right to know. Indeed, the new Health and Human Services report is just the latest in a series of insults to your intelligence and mine.

We seem to have reached a new watershed in critical thinking. Used to be, you gathered facts and they led to a conclusion.

Nowadays, I guess you start with the conclusion.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may contact him at:

[email protected]


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