Washington, DC — The National Park Service has bought footage of President George W. Bush, his father, pro-Iraq War demonstrations and anti-gun control rallies from news organizations for inclusion in a video to be displayed at the Lincoln Memorial, according to documents obtained by People For the American Way Foundation (PFAWF) and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
The two groups obtained hundreds of pages of records through a lawsuit they filed this past January under the Freedom of Information Act. The surrendered records contain thousands of redactions; in many cases whole pages are blacked out. While the groups are negotiating for additional disclosures as part of an ongoing suit, the excerpts released so far paint a compelling picture of how much time and energy the Bush administration has expended in an effort to censor brief clips of footage depicting gay rights, reproductive rights and anti-war demonstrations at the Lincoln Memorial from an educational eight-minute video that has been shown at the memorial since 1994.
The groups filed their FOIA request in October 2003 after being alerted that Park Service officials planned to develop a “more balanced” version of the videotape to satisfy the objections of right wing organizations. The right wing organizations reportedly complained that brief segments of footage showing gay rights, reproductive rights, and anti-Vietnam War demonstrations implied that “Lincoln would have supported homosexual and abortion ‘rights’ as well as feminism.”
The documents show that the Bush administration has acted on their demands, having authorized over $200,000 for video acquisition, editing, and production. In one email, a Park Service official writes “the Director just stopped in to relay that Judge Manson [the Assistant Interior Secretary] wanted to move quickly on the recommendations in the Video paper.” In another email from this January, an official writes that he has been ordered to “fast track” work on the Lincoln Memorial, causing other scheduled projects to be delayed.
In order to revise the video, the Park Service paid thousands to purchase additional footage. Though the agency redacted much of the identifying information, the un-redacted portions indicate that the footage includes conservative events and both President Bush and his father. The Park Service has not disclosed the content of the new video, the instructions given for the revisions or who approved the final product.
“I had not realized the extent to which the Lincoln Memorial exhibits had turned into a vanity project for the Bush administration,” added PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that high school students from around the country put the current video together with no input by political appointees. “No expense is being spared to erase even fleeting images of feminists, war protestors and gays from display as part of our nation’s history.”
The records also reveal that in late 2004 – perceiving that their earlier effort to remove the video had been stymied – administration officials decided to replace all of the memorial exhibits some time this summer and at considerable expense to the cash-strapped Park Service. The planned renovation is so extensive that it may force closure of portions of the memorial during the height of the tourist season.
“This is yet another example of the Bush administration’s efforts to turn the federal government into a right wing propaganda machine,” said Ralph G. Neas, president of People For the American Way Foundation. “We’ve seen this administration use taxpayer money to pay off journalists and create fake news segments promoting its policies. We’ve seen them pressure civil servants to support their policies and withhold information from the public and Congress. Now they’re trying to rewrite history on the basis of ideology and abuse FOIA to conceal the evidence.”