Friday, April 15, 2005


Strong-Arming the Truth?

One rule of thumb that should be followed, regardless of what administration is in power, is "Beware of 'principle' being used to cover up inconvenient facts." The "principle" is usually used more often than not is just a self-serving weapon to hide some malfeasance, regardless of how minor. Sorry, but I tend to be an absolutist on the public's right to have insight into the workings of government policy (obviously making exception for issues of national security).

It's true whether the issue is Hillary's health care task force more than a decade ago or VP Cheney's energy task force four years ago (yes, I know the courts upheld the government's right not to share the information, but as Tom DeLay would tell you -- the court's don't always get it correct).

And it's true today. If
initial reports are true, there seems to be a certain amount of stonewalling from the White House over the details of the now-notorious Department of Education-initiated contract with Ketchum that ended up having pundit Armstrong Williams hawk the administration's No Child Left Behind policy. Yes, there is the caveat that the charges of obstruction are coming from George Miller, the House Education Committee ranking member.

But, so what? There's a legitimate point being made here.

A quarter of a million dollars (give or take $10,000 between friends) -- what Williams received -- isn't chump change. The administration claims that the ED inspector general can't request information from from the White House itself. But if an inquiry leads to questions that only current personnel in the White House can answer, why shouldn't those individuals be made available -- particularly when the White House has made several public pronouncements that it knew nothing about the contract? The fact is that in every administration, there is a free flow of personnel from White House offices into departments and vice versa. Such procedural objections can be made at any time.

These sort of loopholes are infuriating, whether at the federal level, as is happening here -- or at the state level. In New York, an individual accused of ignoring ethics and lobbying conflicts-of-interest can quickly avoid prosecution by simply leaving government service.

As an aside: the original Williams
story was broken by USA Today's education reporter, Greg Toppo. He's a good reporter and a scrupulous writer. I would think that even if we hadn't graduated Port Chester (N.Y.) Senior High School the same year -- and attended St. John's College at the same time.

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