The Dangerous Silence

During the Cuban crisis, the Administration indulged in what it euphemistically called "news management"--an unhappy combination of silence and dishonesty which has been sending chickens home to roost ever since. Just over a week ago, Senator Dirksen proclaimed that he had discovered the largest such fowl yet brought to light; four American flyers had been killed in the Bay of Pigs invasion. A day later, Senator Mansfield revealed that "selected Senators"--apparently all Democrats--had been told of these deaths at the time of the invasion.

It is impossible to reveal government plans to the public without also revealing them to the enemy, and therefore secrecy is often necessary in foreign affairs and military operations. But frequently information is kept secret merely because it might politically embarrass the Administration. Refusal to reveal the pilots' deaths was clearly such a case. Although the Administration admitted sponsoring the invasion, it still denied that American personnel had been involved and refused to give information about the flyers to their widows. The only people told, as far as is known, were Administration supporters in the Senate.

Withholding embarrassing information is a governmental practice which has often been condemned. It is also often self-defeating. Most of the uninformed Senatorial criticism which Kennedy likes to label as irresponsible is the direct result of a policy of secrecy which has made informed criticism impossible. If Republicans interested in foreign policy cannot find out the truth, they can loudly announce the existence of the worst possible situation that comes to mind and assume that, if the truth is merely some lesser evil, the government will announce it in self-defense. They take silence, probably with good reason, as confirmation of their worse fears.

If the Administration wishes to avoid this "irresponsibility," its only recourse is to take the leaders of the opposition into its confidence. It is impossible to justify on the grounds of military necessity the refusal to tell Republicans what Democrats already know. And when even the Senate minority leader cannot find out what the government is doing, Kennedy should hardly feel betrayed if Senator Keating does not recognize the existence of a bipartisan foreign policy.