The GOP's War on Basic Information

08/01/2006 11:51 am 11:51:43 | Updated May 25, 2011

As we well know, Republican politicians are adept at reading off the same talking points and following the same playbook. This is why, for instance, on a given day you will see every Republican saying the same happy-sounding catch-phrase about the Iraq War on Fox News. It is why you saw a number of Republican governors in their first days in office reflexively terminate state workers' collective bargaining rights. But even these extremist moves aren't the most dangerous forms of lockstep behavior. That distinction is reserved for conservatives' new penchant for doctoring/manipulating basic government data and standards.

This Associated Press story today shows exactly what I mean:

"Some of the nation's largest news media companies, including The Associated Press, were counted last year by the government as small businesses for contracting purposes, inflating the Bush administration's record of help to small companies. Other media companies to be treated that way included The New York Times Co., USA Today International Corp., Bloomberg L.P., and even the Public Broadcasting Service, according to data the administration gave congressional investigators. The media giants join other corporate icons like Wal-Mart and Home Depot that congressional investigators identified last week as companies listed as small businesses by the White House."

In other words, the White House manipulated the definition of "small business" so as to reward huge companies with government contracts while simultaneously claiming it was helping the little guy. And now, this behavior is being replicated at the state level. Last week, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) -- formerly a top drug industry lobbyist and Bush budget director -- was caught red-handed trying to get away with a similar scheme. As the Progressive States Network showed, Daniels has been bragging that he lived up to a campaign promise to increase state contracts for locally-owned businesses. He claims Indiana now makes over 80 percent of its purchases from locally-owned Indiana businesses. Yet, last week the Associated Press discovered that Daniels achieved that number not by actually doing anything real, but by simply changing the official definition of a locally-owned Indiana business. For instance, he reclassified Wal-Mart and the University of Utah as Indiana-based businesses.

The White House, of course, has done this kind of thing before. Bush cronies inside the federal government have, among other things, doctored air quality data from 9/11's Ground Zero; rigged the way government tax and economic data is officially reported to create false storylines about its domestic agenda; halted publishing of key government reports about jobs and outsourcing; and now is even trying to eliminate the very government workers whose job it is to accumulate this and other critical information. This says nothing about the Republican Party's overt war on basic science, or about its effort to choke off the Internet as an information resource through the Net Neutrality debate. And now it seems movement conservatives in the states are starting to take a page right out of that playbook as well.

Why is this so dangerous? Because basic objective data/information is the lifeblood of democracy and transparency. The public can't make informed choices about its government without access to objective information -- and it certainly can't make those choices if the information is so carefully doctored as to give politicians a way to do the exact opposite of what they say they are doing.

In oppressive dictatorships there is state-run media that parrots state-doctored statistics. We have a quasi state-run media in the form of Fox News. Now, it seems, conservatives are intent on bringing America state-doctored statistics/data. And that is a direct threat to democracy.