Punishing Christie Todd Whitman for her misleading statements about air quality after the collapse of the WTC could make other functionaries think twice before misleading the public.
You may be thinking that this would be an excellent reason to throw the book at her, even if her lies hadn't blighted so many people's lives.
If so, you fail to understand the intricacies of statecraft:
Holding Christine Todd Whitman liable will set a dangerous precedent, leaving public officials to worry that their words to reassure the public after disasters will open them up to personal liability, Justice Department attorney Alisa Klein told the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.There's enough material here for a dozen posts, but I'll restrict myself to a couple of points. First, I'm not likely to be reassured by people I don't trust. But if I were, it'd probably be because I felt that there was some chance, however small, that they'd be held accountable if they lied to me. That was a rather forlorn hope even before 2000, God knows, but the solution is surely not to treat the anodyne gibberish of party hacks as a balm for which we should be grateful.
Second, if I'd lived in lower Manhattan on 9/11 (instead of the Bronx), I would've found it much more reassuring if Whitman had said, "It's not safe for you to go home." It would've agreed with the evidence directly before my eyes, for one thing, and it also would've given me the feeling that marginally competent people were in charge.
Last, I've never seen much evidence that this government worries at all about frightening people. They've tried to frighten us with anthrax-laden balsa-wood drones drifting across the Atlantic, and a radical homosexual attack on traditional marriage, and ticking time-bombs from which only torture can save us. Worse, they expect us to be more frightened of these threats than the horrific behavior they were invented to justify (e.g., pre-emptive war, institutionalized bigotry, and outright barbarism).
And of course, they've consistently tried to frighten us with the consequences of holding them responsible for their own actions:
"If you speak, you will be potentially held liable," [Klein] said. "Then the clear message for government officials is to say nothing."I didn't think that any false dichotomy could be venal or insane enough to shock me at this point, but this one does the trick: Officials must be able to say whatever they think will "help" during a national disaster, without any fear of being held responsible, or they'll be forced to preside mutely over the carnage like a funerary statue.
All things considered, I think I'm willing to take the risk.
(Photo: Ruins of Dresden, 1945.)