Friday, October 01, 2010

Saying the Things You Shouldn't

One of the things that drives me crazy is the tendency of people in positions of authority to say things they shouldn't. Not just the standard open-mouth-insert-foot sort of thing we expect from the Dan Quayles and George W. Bushes of the world, but the things that people who should know better really shouldn't say.

In the course of my nearly forty-year professional career, I have signed countless nondisclosure agreements. I have solemnly promised to keep secrets of all sorts, and I have...partly because I don't want to go to jail, but more because it's the right thing to do. Unfortunately, not everyone believes the same thing.

Bob Woodward's new book Obama's Wars is a classic example. It is based largely on his access to classified government documents and frequently sensitive, if not downright classified, interviews with senior military and government officials.

So I ask all of those who participated in the writing of this book: what part of not authorized to speak is it that you don't understand? Did you sign your nondisclosure statements with disappearing ink? Why is it that none of you will ever go to jail for happily chatting about things you shouldn't? Have you considered the consequences of your self-important blather to a self-important writer?

As it happens, Eliot Cohen has. In yesterday's Washington Post, Mr Cohen wrote this wonderful op-ed piece: "Obama's Wars: the Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight...or Shut Up."

In this article, which you really ought to take a few minutes to read, Mr Cohen offers a few imaginary responses on the part of various famous and not-so-famous persons to the secrets blithely spilled in Mr Woodward's book. He writes this comment from a hypothetical, relatively junior general in the Pentagon:

"I don't get it. The president fired one of our truly great commanders not for things that he said but for tolerating indiscretion, disloyalty and disrespect among his subordinates -- but do these people apply anything remotely like that standard to themselves?"

Of course, the Woodwards and the persons who speak "on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly" or "on the condition of anonymity because the information is classified" don't worry about simple moral things like this. The Bilbos of the world go to jail for violating confidentiality. The big shots write books for big money.

If it doesn't bother you, it should.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow on Cartoon Saturday. I need it.



Mike said...

I don't think you would go to jail. I think you would be executed.

Wv: priarst - Someone who does things as they were done before.

Bilbo said...

Thanks, Mike. You always know what to say to cheer me up.

allenwoodhaven said...


KathyA said...

It DOES bother me; a lot. I can't understand why they're not being charged.