Bill Moyers discusses the White House’s “disinformation campaign,” and how lying undermines democracy.
DAN RATHER: A White House spokesman said today that President Reagan is not worried about his credibility and that he still has confidence in controversial National Security Advisor John Poindexter. Admiral Poindexter recommended and apparently led a campaign of deliberately lying about Libya and having the lies placed in the press, a so-called “disinformation campaign”.
In his commentary tonight, CBS News Correspondent Bill Moyers looks at the disinformation issue.
BILL MOYERS: Once language is stamped “Official Use Only,” it can be used as the people’s enemy. Somehow nuclear war is not quite so unthinkable when the military talks of civilian casualties as “collateral damage”. Somehow beating a patient to death is not so intolerable when officials say he died of “inappropriate physical abuse”. And somehow a lie is less a lie when called “disinformation”.
Disinformation is what the National Security Advisor at the White House urged on the President as official U.S. policy. The President approved it. High officials then set out to spread false information about another government-in this case, Muammar Qaddafi’s Libya. Now that the secret is out, are they embarrassed? No, they’re just mad, mad that someone exposed them. So, government agencies are turned loose to try to find the person who leaked the truth about government lying. It’s as if firemen arriving at the scene arrest the victim trapped on the burning roof shouting for help.
The Administration acts as if language were government property to be used as officials see fit. Defending his tight control on information, the White House spokesman says, “I don’t know a corporation that doesn’t try to control the message that goes to the public. That’s the way the game is played.” But the United States government is not a private corporation. Lincoln did not talk of government of, by and for the board of directors, and this is no game. If a President believes lying in the defense of a foreign policy goal is no vice, he may one day discover truth is no virtue. He will sound a warning that is real and the country will not believe him.
Words, you see, can be drugs, arousing us to thought and action or dulling our sensibilities. This is, I repeat, no game. We’re talking about the conversation of freedom whose language should be not the ally of deceit, but the friend of truth.
This transcript was entered on June 18, 2015.