Friday, September 15, 2006

The Burning of Books

Fahrenheit 451 might come to your mind when you read that title:

In Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury's classic, frightening vision of the future, firemen don't put out fires--they start them in order to burn books. Bradbury's vividly painted society holds up the appearance of happiness as the highest goal--a place where trivial information is good, and knowledge and ideas are bad. Fire Captain Beatty explains it this way, "Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs.... Don't give them slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy."

If you have read the book or seen the movie you may remember the solution the rebels against bookburning devised: each became a living book, spending hours every day on reciting it so that the words would not be forgotten.

We don't live in a country of widespread book burning, at least yet. But some things remind me of this possibility. One of them is the manipulation of information by the U.S. government. And if this item in the news is correct, we may be getting closer to the actual book burning stage:

The Federal Communications Commission ordered its staff to destroy all copies of a draft study that suggested greater concentration of media ownership would hurt local TV news coverage, a former lawyer at the agency says.

The report, written in 2004, came to light during the Senate confirmation hearing for FCC Chairman Kevin Martin.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. received a copy of the report "indirectly from someone within the FCC who believed the information should be made public," according to Boxer spokeswoman Natalie Ravitz.

(Note: In June of 2006, the FCC announced the start of a new review of media ownership, including a "series of public hearings on media ownership issues at diverse locations across the nation". That review is still ongoing.)

'Every last piece' destroyed
Adam Candeub, now a law professor at Michigan State University, said senior managers at the agency ordered that "every last piece" of the report be destroyed. "The whole project was just stopped - end of discussion," he said. Candeub was a lawyer in the FCC's Media Bureau at the time the report was written and communicated frequently with its authors, he said.

In a letter sent to Martin Wednesday, Boxer said she was "dismayed that this report, which was done at taxpayer expense more than two years ago, and which concluded that localism is beneficial to the public, was shoved in a drawer."

The draft study results are not what some in the administration wanted:

The analysis showed local ownership of television stations adds almost five and one-half minutes of total news to broadcasts and more than three minutes of "on-location" news. The conclusion is at odds with FCC arguments made when it voted in 2003 to increase the number of television stations a company could own in a single market. It was part of a broader decision liberalizing ownership rules.

You can read the draft here (pdf).

If this is true it is not that different from the disappearance of whole data files from the government websites or from the discontinuation of government reports which actually would allow researchers to study race or sex discrimination. Or from the sudden appearance of inaccurate information about abstinence on sites ending with .gov. All this is worrisome and a clearly unethical way to do politics.

What are the rules in the wingnut game of politics? The reason why some have labeled me the goddess with the tinfoil helmet is that the more I dig the fewer ethical restrictions I seem to find in the conservative arsenal. If someone knows which acts are ruled as unthinkable by the wingnut masterminds, please tell me. I'd love the burning of the books to be one of those unthinkable acts.
Link via this Kos diary.