When I heard Christie Whitman was going to testify before the House Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties subcommittee , I hoped that if she were pressured by the Bush administration to hide her concerns about the air quality at Ground Zero and in lower Manhattan, that today might actually be the day sheâd âcome cleanâ about it. I wasnât expecting her to go so far as to say she was wrong, but I wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt. Maybe, I thought, we could officially add this debacle to the growing list of ways in which the Bush administration has put politics before the public’s health.
Minutes into the hearing, I recognized how naÃ¯ve I had been.
Not only did she defend her statements as having been based on information she was getting from experienced scientists, Whitman also explicitly refuted accusations that her statements were influenced by political pressure. Well, okay thenâ¦.I know whoâs side youâre onâ¦
Both Whitman and former OSHA secretary Henshaw skillfully fielded the daming questions. When Reps. Nadler (D-NY-8) and Ellison (D-MN-5) asked if either of them had regrets about the reassuring statements they issued in the days and weeks following 9/11, they calmly answered that they had no regrets about issuing statements based on the best information they had available to them at the time. I donât even think they blinked.
Wow. Can I enroll in their public relations class? I can just imagine yesterdayâs pre-hearing lecture by Karl Rove:
â¦If someone is giving you a hard time about the air readings you got and how those air readings translated into reassuring statements to the public about air quality, avoid answering them by asking the questioner about the source of his information. For instance, insist that he clarify what kind of samples he is talking about and where and when they were taken. If this doesnât deter, repeat. If that doesnât work, repeat it againâlouder. If that doesnât work, say you didnât have jurisdictionâit was someone elseâs job to handle that (like FEMA). If that doesnât work, remind people your son was in the building next door and that you never, in a million years, would have issued any statement you thought could have harmed his health.
â¦ When in doubt, make sure people know that the air samples were not higher than the federally-established permissible exposure limits (PELs) for whatever the chemical is. Refrain from discussing the economic feasibility analyses that go into standards development; we donât want anyone asking if a standard that is economically feasible is also sufficiently strict enough to guard against injury or disease! And avoid at all costs mentioning when the standard was last updated, because it probably wasnât recently. Just remember this phrase: Those exposure limits are based upon the best-available science.
â¦Finally, whatever you do, do not forget to talk about terrorism. Stress the brave and heroic efforts of those who responded to the basest and cowardly attack on American soil by those freedom-hating evildoers. Talk about how the EPA and OSHA were committed to protecting the men and women who boldly stepped forward to aid in the rescue and clean-up efforts. Remind them: the REAL enemies are the terrorists, not the federal agencies who stepped up to the plate to handle the aftermath.
I can also imagine how Rove would have prepped committee member Rep Franks (R-AZ-2), who popped his head into this hearing to ask the real questions on everyoneâs minds: Does this committee really have jurisdiction to address this issue? Wouldnât it be better to let the courts deal with it?
(Franksâ other valuable contribution? Letting the chairman know that hearings at 1:00 PM on Mondays are not conducive to his colleaguesâ schedules. Boohoo. Let me go find my box of Kleenex. I know itâs really hard to justify ending your weekend early to come talk about worker safety, but last time I checked, you were getting paid a pretty decent salary to show up once and a while.)
Honestly, I feel sick. How is it that they keep getting away with all of this?