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NPR & Trust in Government

Robert Shetterly

I was just sitting down in my kitchen this morning -- Sunday, April 18th, 2010 -- to a bowl of oatmeal topped with walnuts, some pieces of ginger, and a little brown sugar when I heard the host of NPR's Sunday Weekend Edition program, Liane Hansen, say that the next segment would begin a series of programs focusing on Trust in Government. She said, as we all know, that cynicism about our political leadership has metastasized. The new series would look at how it got this way and how it could be different.  

I thought, great! I hoped -- and expected -- that the discussion would hone in on governmental hypocrisy and lying. Nothing builds cynicism and destroys trust like hypocrisy and lying.  

But what to my wondering ears should appear but a first guest by the name of Philip Zelikow. Ms. Hansen introduced Mr. Zelikow as a professor of history at the University of Virginia and just the person to frame the discussion. 

What surprised me was what Ms. Hansen, and thus NPR, did not tell us about Mr. Zelikow. He was a neocon who worked very closely with Condoleezza Rice, Dick Cheney, and Carl Rove in the Bush administration. He was one of the primary authors of what has been called the Bush Doctrine -- the right of our country to make preemptive war on other countries in contradiction of international law and our own Constitution. During the Bush administration Zelikow defended the many lies that they told about the reasons for attacking Iraq. And he was put in charge of the 9/11 Commission, the committee that was supposed to tell the world what really happened on 9/11. He ran that committee so that the official version of events could not be questioned. He did not allow witnesses to testify who had seen and heard things that cast the official version into doubt. The commission totally ignored facts that made the official version untenable and it neglected to even mention that World Trade Center tower #7, not stuck by an airplane, also mysteriously collapsed that day. 

In other words, to kick off a program about cynicism and trust in government, NPR was inviting an expert to diagnose the problem -- and what better expert than one of the people who has done more than most to cause it! NPR knows intimately Mr. Zelikow's history and they chose to expunge it, hide it from their listeners.  

Mr. Zelikow failed to mention during the interview that citizens lose respect for their government and become cynical when the government lies. Nor did he mention that when those leaders who lie make sure there is no accountability, the cynicism grows.  

And Ms. Hansen neglected to mention that when the media does not identify the history and bias of a guest, it appears that they may be trying to manipulate their audience. It demonstrates a lack of respect for that audience and is a prime cause of cynicism. Such behavior makes a mockery of trust. It makes cynicism and distrust a self-fulfilling prophesy.

I would like to remind NPR that the problems of trust and cynicism would not be rampant in this country if the media fulfilled its obligation in a democracy to expose the lies of government. The only antidote to these problems is an honest media. (One can never expect the government to be honest.)  When the media obscures the truth, they show the same contempt for democracy that the politicians do.

And then they wring their hands and ask why the people don't trust government. 

My oatmeal is cold now. 


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Robert Shetterly

Robert Shetterly

Robert Shetterly is a writer and artist who lives in Brooksville, Maine and the author of the book, "Americans Who Tell the Truth." Please visit the Americans Who Tell the Truth project's website, where posters of Howard Zinn, Rachel Carson, Edward Snowden, and scores of others are now available. Send Rob an email here.

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