A TRADEMARK of the ideological paranoia that defines so many aspects of the Bush Administration is its aversion to dissent. Opposing viewpoints are seen not as a contribution to essential dialogue but solely as criticism of official policy.
That unfortunate pattern of excluding individuals who disagree with Bush Administration decisions is evidently strong in a State Department program charged with promoting a wide range of views throughout the world.
An internal department review of the U.S. Speaker and Specialist Program has revealed a disturbing approach of systematic censorship.
Published reports say the department's Inspector General's Office found U.S. officials have been screening American experts chosen to deliver lectures, serve as consultants, or conduct seminars overseas for any criticism of the administration in either public statements or writings.
The inspector general's 22-page report said the screening practice amounted to "virtual censorship." Only experts likely to promote positive assessments of the administration to foreign audiences made it past the vetting process.
The vetting was apparently part of a larger pro-administration strategy that included disseminating White House-approved videos as legitimate news stories, paying Iraqi journalists for pro-U.S. reports, and excluding perceived critics from presidential events at home.
But passing a political litmus test seems contrary to the intent of the guidelines in the speakers program designed to encourage discussions of foreign affairs. They call for speakers to be selected "who represent a broad range of responsible and informed opinion in the United States," and are "not limited to the expression of U.S. government policies."
Yet it appears that speaker candidates were rejected even if their personal opinions had no bearing on the subject of their expertise. The inspector general's report noted the "atmosphere of extreme caution and self-censorship" that influenced the department's speaker selection.
The Bureau of International Information Programs, which runs the speakers program, was urged to adopt new rules that choose speakers "based on the quality of their credentials" and "their ability to communicate regardless of their personal opinions on policy issues."
It's a concept that would seem obvious to all but the paranoid fearful of speaking out of turn.
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