A Zeal For Secrecy

Bill Moyers, in a speech before the Society of Professional Journalists, offerred his much-heralded insight into the obsession for secrecy of modern government. Some highlights:

  • President Bush’s chief of staff ordered a review that lead to 6,000 documents being pulled from government Web sites.
  • The Department of Defense banned photos of military caskets being returned to the United States.
  • Vice President Dick Cheney kept his energy task force records secret “to hide the influence of Kenneth Lay, Enron and other energy moguls.”
  • The CIA asks a new question during its standard employer polygraph exam: “Do you have friends in the media?”
  • “There have been more than 1,200 presumably terrorist-related arrests,” Moyers said, “and 750 people deported, and no one outside the government knows their names or how many court docket entries have been erased or never entered.”
  • Secret federal court hearings have been held without any public record of when or where, or who was tried.
  • When the American Civil Liberties Union challenged provisions of the Patriot Act, it was prohibited from telling anyone about it.
  • The Washington Post reported that in recent years, judicial committees acting in secret stripped information nearly 600 times from reports intended to alert the public to conflicts of interest involving federal judges.

“By pillaging and plundering our peace of mind, they hoped to panic us into abandoning those unique freedoms – freedom of speech, freedom of the press – that constitute the ability of democracy to self-correct and turn the ship of state before it hits the iceberg.” The greatest moments in the history of the press, Moyers said, “came not when journalists made common cause with the state, but when they stood fearlessly independent of it.”

And what is surely to become a classic quote held in reverence by principled journalists everywhere:

Moyers said, “…what’s important for the journalist is not how close you are to power but how close you are to reality.”


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