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Honesty Still The Best Policy

Weekly commentary by CBS Evening News anchor and Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer.

Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld says one source of America's problems these days is that we are losing the public relations War to Al Qaeda.

In a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations he said "the U.S. government still functions as a five and dime store in an EBay world."

Boy, did he get that part right, but man, is he wrong about why.

I've dealt with Brother Rumsfeld since he was President Ford's chief of staff and I like the guy. Not long ago I reminded him that "we've been arguing with each other for 30 years." We both laughed.

But here's where I believe he is wrong. He thinks the press makes too much of horrible events such as Abu Ghraib. I don't.

A Democracy by definition means openness. The founding fathers knew enough about human nature to know government would always cover up its mistakes if it operated in secret. Bringing mistakes to the fore is a strength, not a weakness.

When America outlawed segregation, it acknowledged 200 years of wrongs far worse than Abu Ghraib. Would anyone argue that publicly correcting those wrongs made us weaker? To the contrary, it made us stronger. It showed the world we live by the values we preach. And that those values work.

This administration has been secretive when there was no real point to it, has paid reporters to take the government line, and has left the impression that bad news exists only in the minds of reporters. That's no way to win a PR war. It's a sure way to lose it.

Our strength comes from emphasizing in every word and action the values that separate us from those who oppose us, not from adopting their methods.

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