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Updated: 05/18/2013 08:03:09AM

Misinformation and other bureau-babble

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S.L. Frisbie

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Bureaucrats have come up with a five-syllable word for lies: misinformation.

It probably has been around for at least an aeon-and-a-half, but I first remember the term, and its evil twin cousin, disinformation, from the Watergate era.

Watergate was the name of an office building in Washington, D.C., which Richard Nixon’s political operatives broke into to steal campaign secrets from the Democratic National Committee headquarters.

Watergate brought down the Nixon presidency. In the face of certain impeachment and removal from office, Nixon became the first American president in history to resign.

Nixon was not run out of office for what he accurately described as a third-rate burglary; he was run out of office for lying to the people of the United States.

When the president of the United States looked into the camera and declared to the American people, “I am not a crook!” many of us believed him.

When his press secretary, Ron Ziegler, finally went before the press and declared that all previous denials of Watergate “are inoperative,” I, for one, didn’t know what he meant. It turns out he meant he had been lying, over and over again.

Nixon was a crook after all.

And from that era came the absurd practice of appending “gate” onto any scandal for decades to come. I am surprised we have not yet heard the term Benghazi-gate, but I am getting ahead of myself.


In recent years, it has become popular for politicians, from the White House down, to declare as “misinformation” anything reported in the press that they don’t like.

The term is somehow deemed more genteel than “lies,” a classic case of putting powder on a pig’s nose.

And simply the use of the term is deemed sufficient in bureaucratic circles to make a categorical denial of everything that the declarer finds offensive or embarrassing without offering a single word of detail, let alone proof.

“Misinformation” is a bureaucratic term seldom if ever used outside of government circles; as such, I hereby create a new term for it: bureau-babble.

Today it is used by politicians as a blanket denial to defend their own actions from critics.

But if my memory of the Watergate era is accurate (not always the way to bet) it was used by some in the Nixon administration to describe their own practice of putting out self-serving lies.

Circle the wagons, boys; Nixon knew nothing. That’s our story and we’re stickin’ to it.


In recent days, Washington has resorted to bureau-babble to try to distance itself from at least three scandals:

• Harassing letters from the IRS to Tea Party groups and other organizations that are vocal in their criticism of the president. The effort to pass the blame to a couple of low-ranking (but unnamed) bureaucratic functionaries just didn’t pass muster, even with a national press that is quick to come to the president’s defense on most issues. When that didn’t fly, the head man at IRS was fired.

• FBI subpoenas of journalists’ phone records in an attempt to figure out their source or sources for a story on a foiled effort to blow up another airplane. Actually, the subpoenas were a tacit admission of the accuracy of the story, so this came under the bureau-babble heading of “national security.”

• And there is Benghazi, this year’s premier (thus far) venture into misinformation: the administration’s initial, but discredited, cover story on the attacks on an American consulate which killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.

The first version said the attacks came as a spontaneous protest and not a deliberate assault, an attack about which Stevens himself had raised an alarm. Finally, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared to members of Congress, “What difference does it make at this point?”

So much for the search for truth.


(S. L. Frisbie is retired. Had he been alive in the mid-400s B.C., he probably would have been a friend of Diogenes the Cynic, the Greek philosopher who wandered the countryside carrying a lighted lamp in the daytime, searching for an honest man.)

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