Printer Friendly Page Overcoming Excessive Secrecy in Government

#1  Overcoming Excessive Secrecy in Government

Any mainstream media organization can adopt a simple policy that will not hurt (and in the long run will help) its own interests. The policy will reduce rampant secrecy by the administration without harming legitimate administration functions

Whenever top administration officials refuse to explain a policy or action the administration is proposing or adopting in a way that is satisfactory to a mainstream media company, the company should follow a policy (preferably one previously adopted and announced) that works as follows. Using the best advice of its consultants and staff: reporters, editors, anchors, pundits, etc., publish and announce the company's own one or two most likely explanations of the administration's policy or action, ranked in the order of likelihood. Furthermore the company must reiterate in clear and precise language its explanations whenever the administration cites its own explanation that continues to be encumbered by secrecy.

If the media company desires to get the volume of government secrecy down and for that reason is willing to give up what can always be portrayed by others, whether true or not, as pure guesswork or its own bias, the media company could add the following feature to its policy. Whenever the government administration decides to replace secrecy by an explanation of its own, the media company thereafter cites only the government's explanation and abandons its own explanation(s).

If the company does a poor job of executing this policy, for example, (and it is an extreme example) if the company's owners or managers, preferring to go along with the government, allow only irrelevant explanations to be published or announced, then the company is in the same position it would be without any change of policy. It is only when at least some explanations of government secrecy get challenged does light begin to shine on issues and the public is exposed to important new information. A significant portion of the public appreciates the information and takes more notice of the company's publications and TV/radio shows that in the long run will increase its profits and the value of its shares.

A startling potential effect of this policy is illustrated by the 2005 oil crisis. When on Nov, 9th, 2005, the CEOs of the country's top oil companies appeared before a joint hearing of the Senate Energy and Commerce Committees chaired by Republican Senators Ted Stevens, R AK, and Pete Dominici, R NM, the CEOs agreed that their profits would be higher as a result of Katrina/Rita's pressures on petroleum supply. They defended their need to use that windfall for future rebuilding and expanding of drilling, refining and distribution facilities, enabling them in later years to meet both public demand for low prices and shareholder demand for a reasonable return on equity a standard capitalist explanation.

As the hearing started, several Democratic senators requested the Chair to require the CEOs to testify under oath. The Chair refused. Why? If he had concurred, in order to avoid possible indictment for lying under oath, the CEOs would be forced to admit, if asked by a Senator, that they had an agreement with VP Cheney dividing up post-war Iraqi oilfields, a fact already published by individual reporters that received little attention nationally. If a giant mainstream media company, like Fox News, NY Times or Washington Post, had adopted the basic policy this article recommends, it would have been forced by its own policy to recognize the Cheney agreement with the Big-Oil CEOs as a conclusion of the whole media company. Such an announcement would have a much bigger impact on the national consciousness than publication by one or two reporters of their version of the same story that proved to have no legs. With the policy widely in place it is unlikely that Cheney would have labeled top secret the administration's agreement with the oil companies in the first place.

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