Secrets are sometimes necessary. However, when they are used to hide corruption and there are efforts to keep the public from finding out about the corruption, then the public needs to know and those who are trying to hide it should be put on trial for violating existing laws. The following quotes are part of a speech given by Bill Moyers on December 9, 2005, at George Washington University describing a disturbing cabal that started after the resignation of President Nixon and continues today in the Bush administration with some of the same saboteurs.
As Mr. Moyers reports, secrecy in his career dates back to 1964 and the Gulf of Tonkin, when President Johnson used a purported “second attack” on American destroyers to justify a strike on North Vietnam and escalated the Vietnam conflict to the next level: “Consider the recent disclosures about what happened in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964. These documents, now four decades old, seem to confirm that there was no second attack on U.S. ships on the 4th of August and that President Johnson ordered retaliatory air strikes against North Vietnam on the basis of intelligence that either had been ‘mishandled’ or ‘misinterpreted’ or had been deliberately skewed by subordinates to provide him the excuse he was looking for to attack North Vietnam.”
This revelation comes forty years after the fact thanks to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). This act was signed into law by President Johnson on July 4, 1966: “I [Bill Moyers] was there, as the White House press secretary, when President Lyndon Johnson signed the act on July 4, 1966; signed it with language that was almost lyrical — ‘With a deep sense of pride that the United States is an open society in which the people’s right to know is cherished and guarded.’ ”
Bill goes on to say, “The country suffers not only when presidents act hastily in secret, but when the press goes along. … I am taking your time with all this hoping you will understand why I have become something of a fundamentalist on the First Amendment protection of an independent press, a press that will resist the seductions, persuasions, and intimidations of people who hold great power — over life and death, war and peace, taxes, the fate of the environment — and would exercise it undisturbed, in great secrecy, if they are allowed.”
Now what about the present? Mr. Moyers says,
“It has to be said: there has been nothing in our time like the Bush Administration’s obsession with secrecy. This may seem self-serving coming from someone who worked for two previous presidents who were no paragons of openness. But I am only one of legions who have reached this conclusion. See the recent pair of articles by the independent journalist, Michael Massing, in The New York Review of Books. He concludes, ‘The Bush Administration has restricted access to public documents as no other before it.’ And he backs this up with evidence. For example, a recent report on government secrecy by the watchdog group, OpenTheGovernment.org, says the Feds classified a record 15.6 million new documents in fiscal year 2004, an increase of 81% over the year before the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. What’s more, 64% of Federal Advisory Committee meetings in 2004 were completely closed to the public. No wonder the public knows so little about how this administration has deliberately ignored or distorted reputable scientific research to advance its political agenda and the wishes of its corporate patrons. I’m talking about the suppression of that EPA report questioning aspects of the White House Clear Skies Act; research censorship at the departments of health and human services, interior and agriculture; the elimination of qualified scientists from advisory committees on kids and lead poisoning, reproductive health, and drug abuse; the distortion of scientific knowledge on emergency contraception; the manipulation of the scientific process involving the Endangered Species Act; and the internal sabotage of government scientific reports on global warming.
It’s an old story: the greater the secrecy, the deeper the corruption.”
This kind of secrecy needs protection and protection requires collusion. The FOIA needs to be shackled before more recent secrets are revealed. In fact the first attempts to do this were initiated after President Nixon’s secrets were revealed and he had to resign: “This enmity toward FOIA springs from deep roots in their extended official family. Just read your own National Security Archive briefing book #142, edited by Dan Lopez, Tom Blanton, Meredith Fuchs, and Barbara Elias. It is a compelling story of how in 1974 President Gerald Ford’s chief of staff — one Donald Rumsfeld — and his deputy chief of staff — one Dick Cheney — talked the President out of signing amendments that would have put stronger teeth in the Freedom of Information Act. As members of the House of Representatives, Congressman Rumsfeld actually co-sponsored the Act and as a Congressman, Ford voted for it. But then Richard Nixon was sent scuttling from the White House in disgrace after the secrets of Watergate came spilling out. Rumsfeld and Cheney wanted no more embarrassing revelations of their party’s abuse of power; and they were assisted in their arguments by yet another rising Republican star, Antonin Scalia, then a top lawyer at the Justice Department.”
But back to protection and collusion of the secrets of the current administration. Mr. Moyers goes on to say,
“Fast forward to 2001, when in the early months of George W. Bush’s Administration, Vice President Cheney invited the tycoons of oil, gas, and coal to the White House to divide up the spoils of victory. They had, after all, contributed millions of dollars to the cause, and as Cheney would later say of tax cuts for the fraternity of elites who had financed the campaign, they deserved their payoff. But to keep the plunder from disgusting the public, the identities of the participants in the meetings were kept secret. The liberal Sierra Club and the conservative Judicial Watch filed suit to open this insider trading to public scrutiny.
But after losing in the lower court, the White House asked the Supreme Court to intervene. Lo and behold, hardly had Justice Scalia returned from a duck hunting trip with the Vice President — the blind leading the blind to the blind — than the Supreme Court upheld the White House privilege to keep secret the names of those corporate predators who came to slice the pie. “
Of course the Bush Administration had to help Tom Delay,
“It’s no surprise that the White House doesn’t want reporters roaming the halls of justice. The Washington Post reports that two years ago six Justice Department attorneys and two analysts wrote a memo stating unequivocally that the Texas Congressional redistricting plan concocted by Tom DeLay violated the Voting Rights Act. Those career professional civil servants were overruled by senior officials, Bush’s political appointees, who went ahead and approved the plan anyway.
We’re only finding this out now because someone leaked the memo. According to the Post, the document was kept under tight wraps and ‘lawyers who worked on the case were subjected to an unusual gag rule.’ Why? Because it is a devastating account of how DeLay allegedly helped launder corporate money to elect a Texas Legislature that then shuffled Congressional districts to add five new Republican members of the House, nailing down control of Congress for the radical right and their corporate pals.”
But even with secrecy and collusion to keep the secrets secret, shouldn’t the media be interested in exposing it. Of course they should, but as Mr. Moyers points out,
“Yet the press is hobbled today — hobbled by the vicissitudes of Wall Street investors who demand greater and greater profit margins at the expense of more investment in reporting (look at what’s going on with Knight-Ridder.) Layoffs are hitting papers all across the country. Just last week, the Long Island daily Newsday, of which I was once publisher, cut 72 jobs and eliminated 40 vacancies — that’s in addition to 59 newsroom jobs eliminated the previous month. There are fewer editors and reporters with less time, resources and freedom to burn shoe leather and midnight oil, make endless phone calls, and knock on doors in pursuit of the unreported story.
The press is also hobbled by the intimidation from ideological bullies in the propaganda wing of the Republican Party who hector, demonize, and lie about journalists who ask hard questions of this regime.
Hobbled, too, by what Ken Silverstein, The Los Angeles Times investigative reporter, calls ‘spurious balance,’ kowtowing to those with the loudest voice or the most august title who demand that when it comes to reporting, lies must be treated as the equivalent of truth; that covering the news, including the official press release, has greater priority than uncovering the news.”
Mr. Moyers then gets into the details of the secrets and collusion behind the attempts to control public broadcasting and how it attempted to hobble another part of the media. He concludes with, “I have shared this sordid little story with you because it is a cautionary tale about the regime in power. If they were so determined to go with all guns blazing at a single broadcast of public television that is simply doing the job journalism is supposed to do — setting the record straight — you can imagine the pressure that has been applied to mainstream media. And you can understand what’s at stake when journalism gets the message and pulls its punches. We saw it once again when Ahmed Chalabi was in town. This is the man who played a key and sinister role in fostering both media and intelligence reports that misled the American people about weapons of mass destruction. Although still under investigation by the FBI, Chalabi has maneuvered himself into the position of Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq. He came to Washington recently to schmooze with the President and to meet with the armchair warriors of the neoconservative crowd who had helped him spin the case for going to war. The old Houdini was back, rolling the beltway press who treated him with deference that might have been accorded George Washington. Watching him knock one soft pitch after another over the wall, I was reminded that the greatest moments in the history of the press have come not when journalists made common cause with power but when they stood fearlessly independent of it. This was not one of them.”