Inserting himself into the biographies of past presidents on the White House website apparently wasn’t enough for President Obama. His State Department is now editing its descriptions of foreign countries into yet another taxpayer-subsidized campaign commercial for the Obama Administration.
The State Department has recently ended its long-running series of Background Notes, which were analytical, objective histories of other countries. In their place, new “Fact Sheets” now tout Obama’s policies and actions toward each nation. No more historical context, no recounting of complex and long-standing issues in the country. Just cut to the chase—that is, the time when the current Administration came to power.
Heritage’s Jim Roberts, one of the editors of Heritage’s Index of Economic Freedom, was struck by the disproportionate change in emphasis while doing some research recently. Roberts, who worked at the State Department from 1982 to 2007 and used to write these country profiles, said he had never seen edits like these under either previous Republican or Democratic Administrations.
Roberts noted that “They seem to be not ‘fact sheets’ but brag sheets,” adding that the edits appear to treat countries more favorably when the Obama Administration agrees with their leaders.
Roberts is in the process of examining the differences between the historical Background Notes and the new, Obama-centric Fact Sheets. He reveals:
Compare the nearly 1,200-word “Fact Sheet” published this week by the U.S. embassy in Brazil with the last Background Note on Brazil written during the George W. Bush Administration.
The 4,100-word Bush document, chock full of facts and figures helpful in analyzing the country and its importance to the U.S., never once mentions the name of any U.S. President. The 300-word section on U.S.–Brazil relations takes up about 7 percent of the document.
Conversely, fully 70 percent (830 words) of the Brazil Fact Sheet, which is focused exclusively on U.S. relations with Brazil, discusses President Obama either directly by name (twice!) or in the context of the plethora of programs his Administration has launched with Brazil, including a shared “commitment to combat discrimination based on race, gender, ethnicity, or lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) status; to advance gender equality; a bilateral instrument that targets racism; support for HIV/AIDS prevention, promotion of clean energy technologies in Brazil, and mitigation of climate change.”
Thus far, Roberts has not found a comprehensive explanation for the debut of the Fact Sheets. The State Department’s website simply says, “As of May 2012, Background Notes are no longer being updated or produced. They are in the process of being replaced by Fact Sheets that focus on U.S. relations with each country.”
Since President Obama took office, the budget of the State Department has increased from $38.7 billion to $50.2 billion, and thousands have been added to the payroll. Finding that these taxpayer-funded resources are being used to eliminate neutral publications that were highly useful to researchers—only to replace them with lopsided “facts” akin to a campaign commercial—is something the American people deserve to know.
This follows an Administration trend that goes back to 2009. In March of that year, the Administration was caught editing President George W. Bush’s biography to soften his listed accomplishments, and it quickly reversed course. Just a few months ago, it was discovered that White House staff had edited the biographies of many past presidents on whitehouse.gov to include a bullet point or two inserting President Obama into each historical narrative. These remain on the site, including a fabrication they inserted about President Ronald Reagan’s tax policy to make it seem similar to Obama’s.
American officeholders are supposed to take great pains to separate their campaigns from their official duties. Using taxpayer resources to blatantly promote the president’s positions on foreign policy—and even editing the historical record—is an egregious abuse of power.
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