Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Shhh, It's a Secret

The American press delights in revealing secrets about United States Presidents, citing as their justification that over-rated cliche that "...the people deserve to know." They proudly stand on their First Amendment right to Freedom of the Press when revealing things about our Commanders in Chief that might be better kept quiet. I think their less altruistic motive is to sell newspapers. It wasn't always this way. There was a time when the Fourth Estate used the power of the press a little more discretely. We've had a number of Presidents in our history with problems that were known to journalists, but never publicized for fear that the President's ability to govern would be compromised. Most of the time, the secrets come to light only after the term, or the death, of a President. No such restraint from journalists today. They make the tacky "National Enquirer" look tame.

This is an age of instant communication and electronic gadget addiction; people have an almost pathological need to know everything. Their personal communication devices never leave their hot little hands as they wait for the next "train wreck" announcement about Lindsay Lohan, Charlie Sheen or, even better, some juicy gossip about an incumbent President. Will Obama ever produce his birth certificate? What love-struck intern did Clinton have sex with today? OMG, they have to know! Very often the secrets revealed are based on incomplete or incorrect information. Also, in the past, even if newspapers went against tradition and published a story that would put a sitting President in a bad light, they used to triple check their facts. Now, if the President's gardener's dry cleaner leaks a bit of gossip, it's treated as gospel.

One particular area that was always treated with kid gloves was the President's health. There are numerous instances in history where an incumbent President experienced a serious health crisis that was never made known to the public. The man (or maybe one day the woman) in the White House is the symbol of America's strength, and needs to be perceived as robust. On March 4, 1841, to perpetuate this image, newly-elected President William Henry Harrison decided to deliver his very long inaugural address on a bitterly cold Washington, DC day without an overcoat. He subsequently caught pneumonia, and a month later, died. Numerous secret medical crises have confronted U.S. Presidents over the years, but few people knew because of the restraint shown by the press for the greater good.

Abe Lincoln is said to have suffered from Marfan’s Disease, a condition that affects the connective tissue which literally holds the body together; the severe alcoholism of Andrew Johnson was never made public; the cover-up of Grover Cleveland’s secret surgery for cancer of the jaw; Woodrow Wilson’s incapacitating stroke which made his wife the de facto President for almost two years; FDR's paralysis from polio; and the complete suppression of the facts by John F. Kennedy when he took office with then-fatal Addison’s Disease that had also made him, in effect, a drug addict. These men and the people around them went about their duties and the country prospered. Would knowing about these conditions have made Americans any better off for the knowledge: no. 

Not that the question of journalistic discretion even matters any more; that ship has sailed. Some reporters. like the traitors at WikiLeaks, would risk the security of our country just to be first to publish classified secrets for the media junkies that need their fix. We like to think we have a "transparent" government where no back room deals get made. Yeah, right, if it ever became known what kind of wheeling and dealing goes on in secret in all Presidential administrations, there would be an uproar from the Left. Diplomacy is a shadowy business, and sometimes secrecy is necessary to get things done for the greater good. Not to oversimplify this, but it's a little like when you were a kid and your parents told you only as much as they knew you could handle.

While I don't advocate for an underground government, I do understand that sometimes, for very good reasons, including national security, we don't always have to know everything. I can accept that.


Children's Craniofacial Association

1 comment:

Joseph Del Broccolo said...

I couldn't agree more. The need to know should only affect those that need the information, the presidential doctors for instance. Once we elect someone into office, it takes 4 years to throw the bum out, in the mean time there is no sense in weakening his ability to govern or lead,thus handicapping the State Department, the White House and the total governmental structure!