Bush administration manipulates facts


Leonard Pitts Jr.

Two plus two — I have this on good authority — equals four.

So how do you feel about that? Do you support that interpretation or do you think it should be changed?

Yes, I know. You’re wondering if I’ve lost my mind. Well, asking that question tells me something about you. Namely, that you’re not a member of the Bush administration. Because in the administration, how you feel about a fact is often more important than the fact itself. And political expediency is more important than both.

I refer you to a statement recently issued by the Cambridge, Mass.-based Union of Concerned Scientists. It accused the White House of manipulating and distorting scientific fact for political gain and censoring and suppressing the findings of government scientists. Given that the UCS is an advocacy group that has often been at odds with the Bush White House, you might be tempted to take the charges with a grain of salt, particularly in an election year.

That would be a mistake. Many of the 60 scientists who affixed their names to the statement have no affiliation with the UCS. Indeed, the signatories include former advisers to presidents both Democratic and Republican. Nineteen are winners of the National Medal of Science, 20 are Nobel laureates.

They are, in other words, not political hacks.

And the UCS report their statement accompanies catalogues a disturbing series of abuses by the Bush White House. Among other things, it accuses the administration of:

• Chopping up and eventually chopping out the global warming section of a 2003 EPA report on the environment;

n Scrapping a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention fact sheet on proper condom use and replacing it with one emphasizing condom failure rates;

• Suppressing an Agriculture Department report that found a link between potentially dangerous airborne bacteria and animal waste at large farming concerns.

And so on.

Much of this has already been reported, to widespread indifference. I covered this ground myself in January. What’s new is that the charges are no longer leveled only by ink-stained wretches who grind axes for a living. One hopes maybe that will get folks to sit up and take notice.

As well they should, given the unsettling inferences about the quality of the decision making that goes on at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. I mean, if you give yourself permission to ignore facts you don’t like or that don’t fit your worldview, you can easily find yourself doing things you shouldn’t ought to do.

Like invading a sovereign nation in search of weapons that aren’t there, just to pluck an example from the air.

I’ve always respected facts, even when they disagree with me. You might believe one thing and I might believe another, but the facts are something else again. The hard, clean clarity of the known and provable is something we must acknowledge if we are to make any claim to intellectual honesty.

Of course, intellectual honesty is not a hallmark of the present regime. From its flexible rationale for war to its tax cuts in the face of spiraling deficits to its cynical manipulation of the gay marriage issue, the White House has instead been distinguished by its willingness to say or do whatever the short term demands.

And if you say, well yes, but the facts of those matters — war, budget, gay marriage — are largely open to interpretation, fine. But what about science? What about a discipline whose truths are supposed to be objective, verifiable, demonstrable? Yet even here, the Bush administration feels free to censor, manipulate and ignore. That ought to frighten you.

Unless I’ve been wrong about this two plus thing all along.

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

[email protected]


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