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Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

A Pattern of Lies
distributed 7/9/03 - ©2003

The White House spinmeisters are saying that President Bush "misspoke" in the State of the Union address last January.

I always thought that misspeaking had to do with accidentally saying what wasn't in the script, or maybe making an off-the-cuff comment that you wish you hadn't said. But now the word is being applied to a statement that was included in the carefully crafted text of the speech -- a statement that had been firmly supported for months.

Almost 6 months after the President addressed Congress, the nation and the world, it has been discovered that he "misspoke" about Iraq's alleged attempts to purchase uranium from an African source.

The mainstream media shies away from saying it, but many commentators are using a different word. They are saying that he lied.

The charges that the Bush administration played fast and loose with the facts about Iraq gain credibility and becomes even more troubling to me when they are placed in a broader context of their manipulating information for political reasons.

  • Twice in the last year, major reports from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have had entire sections on global climate change deleted for politically tainted reasons. In the most recent case -- a comprehensive report on the state of the environment released in June -- the EPA staff felt compelled to delete the section in order to avoid criticism that they were selectively filtering science to suit policy.

    A staff memo, circulated in April after White House officials had edited the draft report, said that the revised section on climate "no longer accurately represents scientific consensus on climate change."

  • Also at the end of June, the Bush administration wrote to a UN agency, asking to have Yellowstone National Park removed from a list of sites that are "in danger." The Greater Yellowstone Coalition reacted: "The report presented to the WHC was at odds with the park's internal professional and scientific report. The uncensored version of that report clearly showed that politically expedient editing and rewriting had overcome the sound science and professional opinions of seasoned public employees."

    The Coalition's Executive Director noted "a disturbing pattern of dismissing, re-stating and supplanting the work of scientists and park professionals." Other examples of the trend include the approval of a coal-fired power plant in Montana that will bring smog to Yellowstone, and the approval of snowmobiles in the park, against the long-standing recommendations of the Park Service and the EPA.

  • The administration withheld information from the US Senate about options for cleaning up power plant pollution. A statement from the grassroots organization, Republicans for Environmental Protection (REP), referred to the deleting of climate information from the EPA report, the Yellowstone letter, and then said, "now, we see that Senators were not given vital information about cleaning up unhealthy power plant emissions." The REP statement said that "withholding of vital environmental information is getting to be a bad habit with the Bush administration."
A month ago, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote: "Suggestions that the public was manipulated into supporting an Iraq war gain credibility from the fact that misrepresentations and deceptions are standard operating procedure for this administration, which -- to an extent never before seen in U.S. history -- systematically and brazenly distorts the facts." "Misleading the public has been a consistent strategy for the Bush team on issues ranging from tax policy and Social Security reform to energy and the environment."

In May of this year, I wrote an issue of Notes that compared the counter-factual assertions of the Bush administration on environmental policies to the wild statements of the Iraqi Information Minister in the closing days of the war.

In the two months since that column, there have been at least three new, major charges of strong scientific evidence on environmental issues being distorted, concealed or deleted for political reasons. That is in addition to the continuing controversy about selective, distorted or fabricated evidence about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Morally, it is not even a question for debate. Bending, brutalizing and hiding the truth is not acceptable. Practically, too, this approach to governance will not work. Continued lies and distortions erode trust, increase conflict, and inevitably lead to flawed policies.

It is incumbent on us all -- politicians and the media, religious leaders and citizens -- to name and denounce the distortion of truth. We must not allow this administration's pattern of lies to continue.

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The 59th chapter of the book of Isaiah has a moving call to national repentance that is painfully suitable for today. Verse 14 proclaims:
      Justice is turned back,
            and righteousness stands at a distance;
      for truth stumbles in the public square,
            and uprightness cannot enter.
This passage appears in the lectionary only for Palm Sunday of Year C. This summer might be an appropriate time to lift up the text for more careful attention.


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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