By Dan Olmsted
"Transparent" seems to be the word of the week, if not the millennium, and when you hear it you just know it's insincere. After saying that the Clinton Foundation is "among the most transparent" foundations, Chelsea Clinton said this week that in the wake of questions about possible conflicts of interest, "We'll be even more transparent."
In the wake of the drone strikes that tragically killed two hostages, President Obama voiced deep regret but "praised what he claimed was his administration’s exceptionally transparent response to the tragedy," according to the Guardian:
"He said he had decided to make the existence of the operation public because Weinstein and Lo Porto’s families 'deserve to know the truth' and 'the United States is a democracy, committed to openness, in good times and in bad.'"
The New York Times, however, called for more, well, transparency: "For years, the Obama administration has kept its drone strikes shrouded in great secrecy, knowing that what have been described as precision attacks on terrorist targets have also killed innocent civilians." (I can't help but mention that I wrote in last week's column: "While we're sending drones over Pakistan and building ill will -- Pakistan officials are talking about charging former CIA agents with murder -- the country just signed a $46 billion infrastructure improvement pact with China. We are not winning the future by fighting everyone else in the world.")
Oh, and the Toronto Star changed the headline on its Gardasil article from "A wonder drug's dark side" to "Families seek more transparency on HPV vaccine" -- before deleting it from their Web site altogether. Not very transparent on the part of the Star.
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices at the CDC used the word or its variations 25 times in a recent report, noting that because the American Academy of Pediatrics saw the need for "transparent evidence-based approach for its policies and endorsement, AAP established a Steering Committee on Quality Improvement and Management (SCOQIM) in 2001."
Let me tell you something. SCOQIM and ACIP and the BH&CCF and the HPV vaccine makers and the drone program are not about transparency at all. They are about opacity; they are all about what they can do without us knowing about it. Whenever I think of transparency I remember what Bill Clinton said to journalists at the start of the Monica Lewinsky Scandal:
"You and the American people have a right to get answers. We are working very hard to comply and get all the requests for information up here, and we will give you as many answers as we can, as soon as we can, at the appropriate time, consistent with our obligation to also cooperate with the investigations.
"And that's not a dodge, that's really why I've – I've talked with our people. I want to do that. I'd like for you to have more rather than less, sooner rather than later. So we'll work through it as quickly as we can and get all those questions out there to you."
Uh, no. That was a dodge. (Lest you think I'm picking on Democrats, please note that Gov. Chris Christie has something called a Transparency Center, which his aides apparently overlooked when they slowed traffic into Manhattan out of transparent spite.) The people who run government and big business are dodgy by profession, by job description. I just wish they would quit claiming they weren't. In fact, if any one of them took sodium pentathol before their next press availability and were asked a tough question, their answer would be, "That's for us to know and you to find out."
In fact, a maddening lack of transparency is at the heart of the vaccine safety debacle. Transparency about vaccine court settlements, about autism-vaccine research, about drug company trials would have ended this tragedy before it really got going. Instead, behind closed doors the people who were supposedly looking out for the consumer and taxpayer conspired to hide the truth -- at Simpsonwood, in IOM deliberations, in VSD data that was "lost" and sold off to keep it private, in fudged numbers from the studies that Bill Thompson is now telling the truth about. I am sure I can find you quotes from every one of those groups about how transparent they try to be.
It is galling to hear the powers that be talk about how dedicated they are to getting the truth out there and letting the chips fall where they may. Sorry, I don't believe it. As an English major, I've been turning Obama's comment on 60 Minutes about vaccines (in response to the measly measles outbreak) over in my mind for the past few weeks: "There is every reason to get vaccinated -- there aren't reasons to not." There aren't reasons not to? This is the way people talk when they are not being transparent. There are reasons not to, the telling of which would require a transparency up with which the powers that be are not about to put. It gets all tangled, syntactically and otherwise, when you don't just tell the truth. To quote a famous parody of Time magazine, "Backwards ran sentences until reeled the mind. Where it will end, knows God!"
Dan Olmsted is Editor of Age of Autism.