Wednesday, November 10, 2004

“The appearance” of disinformation

What all this adds up to is that the White House’s "communications" policy is corrupting the informational integrity of the country, with dire implications for the civic culture of the country.

The analogy to economic corruption is not just a metaphor. Over the years, Congress and the courts have banned various sorts of lobbying practices – for example, dinners, expensive gifts, honoraria, etc. for elected officials or judges – not because they are necessarily corrupt, but because they “give the appearance” of corruption. Put somewhat more pointedly, such acts are banned because if we didn’t ban them, then true corruption would always be able to claim that bribes were merely innocent gifts. Whenever courts and politicians render pronouncements on such laws, they inevitably include pious rhetoric about the need to avoid political cynicism.

The problem with the White House’s information policy is that it “gives the appearance” that something is being covered up and concealed. Even in the absence of a true cover-up, these appearances generate a similar cynicism about the political system that actual corruption does.

Informational corruption (or lack thereof) is more than just disturbing or annoying. It also undermines one of the bases of civic virtue: an informed and rational citizenry. If the people don’t have good information on which to reason through their decisions, then their decisions will necessarily be made on some basis other than reason.

Then again, maybe that’s precisely what this White House wants.

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