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This Is Censorship

The Bush administration red-pencils information about airline safety and climate change.

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Thursday, November 01, 2007

These Associated Press headlines jumped off the page during the last two weeks: "NASA withholds air safety survey;" "Major editing seen on CDC testimony on climate change." It seems that the president whose promise to protect the American people is repeated more often than his promise to uphold the Constitution has actually instructed government agencies to keep a lot from us.

The NASA story came first. It said that a national survey of pilots, who could speak candidly because their identities were kept secret, reported twice as many near-midair collisions and barely averted runway crashes as other federal monitoring agencies have recorded. Explaining his agency's refusal to honor the AP's public record request to get the full survey, NASA associate administrator Thomas Luedtke made a statement the AP summarized this way: "...revealing the findings could damage the public's confidence in airlines and affect airline profits." Profits—that's what the administration's policies seem chiefly designed to protect.

Then there was the testimony CDC director Dr. Julie Gerberding gave in a Senate hearing, testimony that was cut from 14 pages to four in a fit of red-penciling by the White House (as presented to the Senate, it was a little longer: six pages). Gerberding's original draft (for the difference between that draft and the edited version, see www.climatesciencewatch.org/index.php/csw/details/censored_cdc_testimony) presented an eye-opening picture loaded with specifics: climate change would aggravate asthma and allergies, raise the danger of wider range for infectious diseases, from plague, dengue fever and malaria (not seen as very likely in the U.S.) to Lyme disease, giardia and any number of diarrhea-producing infections which certainly could occur here, tying up health care facilities, sickening people and killing the most vulnerable. Food and water shortages and mental illness caused by stress were all a part of the picture she assembled. Instead, what she told Congress about was the research CDC had planned and the preventive and ameliorating measures they were preparing.

Testimony by agency heads is typically reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget; OMB spokesman Sean Kevelighan told the AP his bosses review agency heads' presentations partly to assess whether they "line up well with the national priorities of the administration." In other words, they censor them. Fortunately, the country doesn't yet have very efficient censorship; Gerberding's original draft had been sent to the state, county and community health services on the CDC's mailing list before the speech was gutted, so it's not hard to read what the White House didn't want Congress to hear.

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