A federal employee decides to write a book on his knowledge of a known government scandal. After signing a book contract with a major publisher, the book deal is subsequently forbidden—by the government.
Does this sound like a George Orwell novel? Or an Ayn Rand work of fiction? No. It’s really happening. Not in a third world or Communist country. In the United States of America. Right now.
Consider the following:
The ATF agent who blew the whistle on [the Obama Justice Department’s] Operation Fast and Furious has been denied permission to write a book on the botched anti-gun trafficking sting “because it would have a negative impact on morale,” according to the very agency responsible for the scandal. After first trying to stop the operation internally, ATF Agent John Dodson went to Congress and eventually the media following the death of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in December 2010. Two guns found at the murder scene were sold through the ATF operation. Dodson’s book, titled “The Unarmed Truth,” provides the first inside account of how the federal government permitted and helped sell some 2,000 guns to Mexican drug cartels, despite evidence the guns killed innocent people. Dodson, who is working with publisher Simon & Schuster, submitted his manuscript to the department for review, per federal rules. However, it was denied. [The source of this story is FoxNews.com. However, the same facts are reported by the Obama-leaning huffingtonpost.com.]
The extraordinary factor? The reason the government gives for forbidding publication of the book: “Harming morale.” In other words, the government is essentially saying, “You may not publish this book—because it will embarrass us.” This is a new thing in America. Even under the last President, George W. Bush, no federal agency would have been permitted to say such a thing, much less do it. The outrage from anti-Bushite Michael Moore to MoveOn.org to the Democratic National Committee would have been explosive. And deservedly so. For reasons nobody seems willing to explain or name, that’s no longer the case.
It appears that when the Obama administration faces embarrassment for the publication of a book exposing a government scandal, it has every right to assert government privilege. The idea that any government agency has a “right” not to be embarrassed is a principle underlying a dictatorship, not a democratic republic supportive of individual rights.
In a democratic republic, the individual has a right to speak his mind, or tell his story, provided it’s on his own time, money and property. If he commits plagiarism or spreads objective falsehoods, he’s of course subject to legal sanctions through the due process of courts and law. But that’s not what’s happening in this case. An agency of the federal government deems it humiliating, and therefore impermissible, for a potential whistle-blower to expose facts or perceptions about a very important scandal involving the government.
The Obama administration will argue that they have a right to control a man who’s still their employee. Yet the federal government forbids private sector employers discretion all the time. Hiring based on actual (or even alleged) racial or sexual discrimination is illegal, and employers are now mandated to provide health insurance for their employees, otherwise pay a fine. Why is so little discretion allowed private sector employers while the “king” in charge of the federal government may use any oversight he wishes? Plus, if the Obama administration has nothing to hide in the Fast and Furious scandal, why fear the publication of this book?
You need not care about the ATF Fast and Furious scandal, nor even know what it is. But freedom of speech is a wider principle—and it’s for everybody. It’s for Democrats, for Republicans, as well as for the nonpartisan or the politically indifferent. Freedom of speech is for writers of any kind, and for all of their readers. Even if you don’t care to read, you’ll fare much better in a society where people are free to think and, as a direct result, free to write and speak their minds as they see fit.
Our government is curbing that right in cases where it—well, where it’s embarrassing to the rulers. If you don’t care about that, then it’s hard to imagine that you care about any of your remaining freedoms.
Michael J Hurd
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