There’s nothing like a big whistle-blower leak to quiet the loose talk among politicians about “transparency,” which for a while was the principal buzz-word around Washington and in state capitols and corporate board rooms. That seems to be especially important when it comes to “overlooking” war casualties (AKA atrocities), child sexual abuse, and the source of funding for political campaigns.
Divulging critical information kept secret for security purposes is a different matter, especially when the safety of military personnel and civilians is at stake. That includes revealing the identity of intelligence agents such as Valerie Plame, whose story is portrayed in the new film Fair Game.
Knowing where the difference lies between the right to know and the need for secrecy is a crucial if challenging task. But not one to leave solely in the custody of those who have most to gain from keeping the electorate in the dark.
True enough — what we don’t know won’t hurt them. But it’s pretty hard to bamboozle an informed electorate just as it’s not too difficult to manipulate one that gets what information it has in sounds bites and attack ads.
Along those lines, I am vastly enjoying Charles Seife’s new book, Proofiness, in which he shows with admirable clarity how dishing up a few impressive-looking “statistics” persuades the naive, innocent, and uncritical that the claims attached thereto must be true, when in fact they very frequently aren’t. Political candidates and demagogues (not always a distinct subset of the former category) are particularly adept at this fine art – and growing more so, it would appear.
It might be a good idea to check out Seife’s book before election day. Otherwise, welcome to Teapot Dome Redux….