Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 7, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

BUSH ADMINISTRATION LIES....What do you do if the scientific evidence suggests one thing but political realities push you in the opposite direction? Chris Mooney provides the answer today: If you're Slick Willie, the president who supposedly had a hidden agenda even for his hidden agendas, you suck it up and tell the truth. "Yes, the science is sound, but we've chosen a different policy anyway."

But if you're George Bush, the president who supposedly means what he says and says what he means, you lie. You pretend that the scientific evidence is the opposite of what it really is.

The subject at hand is needle exchanges as a way of curbing the spread of AIDS, and Chris points to what he calls "an extraordinary editorial" in the Washington Post last week. He's right: it is extraordinary. Check this out:

The administration claims that the evidence for the effectiveness of needle exchange is shaky. An official who requested anonymity directed us to a number of researchers who have allegedly cast doubt on the pro-exchange consensus.

One of them is Steffanie A. Strathdee of the University of California at San Diego; when we contacted her, she responded that her research "supports the expansion of needle exchange programs, not the opposite."

Another researcher cited by the administration is Martin T. Schechter of the University of British Columbia; he wrote us that "Our research here in Vancouver has been repeatedly used to cast doubt on needle exchange programs. I believe this is a clear misinterpretation of the facts."

Yet a third researcher cited by the administration is Julie Bruneau at the University of Montreal; she told us that "in the vast majority of cases needle exchange programs drive HIV incidence lower." We asked Dr. Bruneau whether she favored needle exchanges in countries such as Russia or Thailand. "Yes, sure," she responded.

Note the familiar MO of an administration official who demands anonymity on a subject that should be perfectly open. Why? Because he knows perfectly well he's lying and doesn't want his name associated with it in case he gets caught. He's not just bullshitting, either: he's flatly lying and hoping that it's not a big enough story for anyone to bother tracking down his sources.

There are two lessons here. First, the Post should feel no obligation to keep this person's name anonymous. He lied to them. Second, even in a blatant case like this the Post was still unwilling to flatly call these statements lies. What does it take, guys?

Oh, and a third lesson too: the press should never believe a word the Bush administration says unless they confirm it themselves. Maybe that's really lesson #1.

Kevin Drum 4:29 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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