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Published: Sunday, 9/4/2005

It s all about control

Political interference with the flow of routine government information has become a fact of life in Washington as the Bush Administration has gone to extraordinary lengths to keep facts that don t support its policy goals from the American public.

Thus it is no particular surprise that the administration has fired the director of a small and traditionally independent Justice Department bureaucracy in a dispute over a press release about racial profiling.

A nationwide study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, headed by Lawrence A. Greenfeld, concluded that there was little difference in the rate at which white, black, and Hispanic motorists were likely to be stopped for traffic violations.

The bureau s political supervisors, however, ordered a couple of other startling conclusions deleted from a news release. It turns out, the study also found, that once motorists were stopped, blacks and Hispanics were far more likely than whites to have cars searched, be subjected to force or threats by police, or to receive citations.

According to a report in the New York Times, Mr. Greenfeld refused to excise that information from the release and was dismissed from his job just six months from his scheduled retirement. Although he has a right as a senior federal official to secure a lower-level position, the administration sent a chilling message about what happens to those who cross it.

In the end the news release was cancelled and the study was released only over the Internet, virtually assuring that it would be lost amid the mountain of information released by the government.

This politically motivated censorship does more than distort the debate on an important public policy issue. It also damages the credibility of all government communications, especially from bureaus and agencies that traditionally have produced accurate, unbiased reports.

It s the sort of calculated mendacity that keeps the public wondering, with plenty of cause, What is it they re not telling us now?

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