State Department analyst Dr. Rod Schoonover recently quit after the White House blocked his scientific testimony before Congress.
“Politics intruded on science and intelligence,” Schoonover wrote in a New York Times op-ed. “That’s why I quit my job. The White House blocked the submission of my bureau’s written testimony on the national security implications of climate change.”
More significantly, Schoonover’s stated reason was that “the scientific foundation of the analysis did not comport with the administration’s position on climate change.”
In case you missed it, that’s a political position, not a scientific one. The scientific process for arriving at facts isn’t perfect, but it sure beats political reasoning.
This isn’t new. In 1985, Columbia Journalism Review published “When the government tells lies: Official deceptions, half-truths, and outright lies impose a heavy burden on the press.” The analysis describes administrations from both political parties lying to the country.
For example, in November, 1957, when President Dwight Eisenhower suffered “a stroke,” his press office told reporters he had developed “a chill.” Twenty-four hours later, the nation was told its president was “seriously ill.”
In December 1971, Henry Kissinger briefed the press about the government’s position on the India-Pakistan war. He observed that there had been “totally inaccurate” comments that “the administration is anti-Indian.” A briefing paper said the administration was “neither anti-Indian nor pro-Pakistan.”
Four days prior to that briefing, Kissinger had said in another meeting, “I am getting hell every half-hour from the president that we are not being tough enough on India,” according to a transcript that surfaced a month later. “He wants us to tilt in favor of Pakistan.”
On April 22, 1980, President Carter’s press secretary told the Los Angeles Times that no military operation was planned to rescue American hostages held in Tehran, that “a rescue mission just wouldn’t make any sense.” Two days later, members of elite Delta Force boarded helicopters for a rescue mission that had to be aborted after encountering unexpected weather.
The day before U.S. troops landed on Grenada in October 1983, White House spokesman Larry Speakes called the idea of such a landing “preposterous,” denying any invasion was planned.
After 34 years, and many presidents and administrations later, that CJR article is still a great read. Sadly, not much has changed. But people are more aware. I recently walked through downtown Pullman in a T-shirt emblazoned with the Washington Post motto, “Democracy dies in darkness.”
Strangers gave me verbal high-fives and smiles.
Democracies run on information. If that information is faulty, democracies falter and can even die. You can’t vote intelligently without access to facts about a candidate, and tweets don’t cut it.
Whose “facts” can we believe? The national election is still 15 months away. Yet, like locusts, political spinmeisters blanket the land. The government continues to lie and otherwise hide the truth, muzzling or undermining its own scientists.
Science constantly improves, building on past evidence and sometimes discarding discredited evidence in the face of new. Unscrupulous agenda-keepers exploit such changes, generating uncertainty by highlighting apparent inconsistencies. Climate change denial does this.
Believers or not, we’ve all got skin in the climate game. We’re all affected by it. As individuals, we need to inform ourselves and act accordingly. Vibrant democracies are run by people who constitute them. Accurate information directs our collective affairs.
We all can participate. We can scrutinize what we read, see, or hear, to determine whether it’s true. We can inform ourselves. We can stop the darkness of untruth from burying our democracy.
Pete Haug’s eclectic interests and several careers drew him across the U.S. and into China with his wife, and sometimes draconian editor, Jolie. They retired south of Colfax. You can reach him at email@example.com.