“I remember during one Roosevelt Room prep session before I appeared on the Sunday shows, I objected when Dan Pfeiffer wanted me to say Social Security didn’t contribute to the deficit. It wasn’t a main driver of our future deficits, but it did contribute. Pfeiffer said the line was a ‘dog whistle’ to the left, a phrase I had never heard before. He had to explain that the phrase was code to the Democratic base, signaling that we intended to protect Social Security.”
—- Former Obama Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, revealing that the White House wanted him to mislead the public on the deficit, debt and Social Security, in his newly published memoir, “Stress Test.”
Some ethics observations:
- Sadly and predictably, the conservative news organizations are going bananas over this passage, while the liberal organizations—that is to say, all of the rest—are scrupulously ignoring it or trying to. Why sadly? Because in an ethical, objective journalistic culture, every reporter would be examining this admission, and critically.
- Any journalist who is not bothered by this account has implicitly adopted the position that it is acceptable for the President of the United Sates and U.S. officials to mislead the public regarding crucial matters they have a right to know and understand. This is an unethical position for anyone, but especially for a journalist.
- Of course, this is not the position of most left-oriented journalists. The position of these journalists is, apparently, that it is acceptable for Democratic Presidents of the United Sates and officials in Democratic administrations to mislead the public regarding crucial matters they have a right to know and understand, since they have exhibited no such tolerance when Republicans have occupied the White House.
- More unethical still, the position of these journalists appears to be that it is only acceptable for this Democratic President of the United Sates and officials in his administration to mislead the public regarding crucial matters they have a right to know and understand, since they have held past Democratic Presidents, such as President Johnson, to higher standards of transparency, and vociferously so.
- This double standard (Quadruple standard? What is a double standard in applying a double standard?) is especially irresponsible, because this President famously proclaimed that his administration would be the most transparent in history.
- From this anecdote, we learn that Dan Pfeiffer, now the head of White House communications, believes that his job is to lie, and get others to lie, for political and electoral advantage. What does it tell us that the head of White House communications believes that his job is to deceive and mislead the public? Pfeiffer has been sent to the Sunday talk shows to give the White House’s position on controversies such as the I.R.S. scandal. I’ll put these in the form of questions, because there is only one honest, objective non-partisan answer to any of them:
- What does it tell us when the White House sends a paid liar to explain issues to the public?
- What does it tell us about the President and the White House that its communications chief sees his responsibility as obscuring the truth, rather than relaying it?
- What does this anecdote tell us about the culture, values, ethics and trustworthiness of the administration?
- If they know this—and do you really think it possible that they do not?—why would any news show allow Pfeiffer on the program as a spkesperson, giving him a forum to mislead?
- The growing message coming from the columnists and pundits on the left–the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank, Richard Cohen, E.J. Dionne, Bob Beckel and many more—is that the Benghazi controversy is, in Milbank’s words, a “nothingburger,” even though they concede that the White House “may have” conspired to mislead the public regarding the real nature of the attack by programming United Nations delegate Susan Rice to lie, just as Pfeiffer tried to do the same with Geithner. This account gives credence to critics claims that this is exactly what happened. Is the fact that the White House routinely deceives the public really all right with these people? No big deal? Everybody does it? Do all progressives and Democrats feel this way? If so, that is a major scandal in itself.
- I heard Laura Ingraham argue on Fox News this morning that Geithner was obligated to resign if he felt he was being pressured to lie. That would have been one ethical response, and perhaps the best one, but I don’t agree that this was his obligation, or even the decision that best served the nation. He was obligated not to lie, and more, to tell the truth about Social Security. I don’t recall, nor can I find, and record of Geithner admitting that Social Security’s problems would add to the debt or deficit, so it seems he deceived the public by omission.
- As I have stated in other cases of administration officials cashing in with memoirs that reveal sensitive conversation that were presumed at the time to be confidential, Geithner should have held his memoir until President Obama was out of office, and ideally, long after. His description of the conversation with Pfeiffer is a breach of trust, and a venal one.
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