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Published: Tuesday, 6/10/2008

NASA's spin machine

DISTORTING information to reflect the political positions of those in control of public policy is an outrage in a free and open society, but it has become a pattern at all levels of the Bush Administration.

More proof of such attempts to deceive the public now have been exposed as NASA's inspector general reports that political appointees in the agency's press office "marginalized or mischaracterized" studies on global warming put out between 2004 and 2006.

The inspector general detailed more than a dozen actions in which it said the NASA public affairs office unilaterally edited or downgraded press releases having to do with global warming or denied access by the media to government climate-change scientists. The report concluded that "inappropriate political posturing or advantage" was behind some of the actions.

While the report did not directly link specific NASA or administration officials to misconduct in the press office, it included supporting evidence showing that agency scientists and a majority of career public affairs officers strongly believed the actions of senior press officials were "intended to systematically portray NASA in a light most favorable to administration policies at the expense of reporting unfiltered research results."

NASA's former press secretary, Dean Acosta, now a spokesman for Boeing, was accused of telling underlings they were writing "too many " news releases on global warming, but he denied any purposeful distortion.

Curiously, as if to lend credence to the inspector general's findings, the agency downplayed the report as "old news." It noted that policy changes have been made since the allegations first appeared in 2006, which is, of course, not the same thing as saying it didn't happen before. NASA's legal office, meanwhile, split hairs by countering that the scientific research itself had not been interfered with, which means that members of the scientific community, at least, knew the truth.

Systematic or not, such political interference violates the public trust.

As President Bush's tenure draws to a close, there is little doubt that his administration will be remembered mostly for a level of politicization of government agencies unequalled by any other in this nation's history.



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