A university is just a group of buildings gathered around a library. ~Shelby Foote

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

On the Importance of Records

Okay, I'm an archivist. Some folks, indeed many folks, when first confronted with that fact respond with, "Um... okay. What's an archivist?" Fair question. An archivist is someone who preserves the historic record. We save, in some ways shape, history by determining what materials to preserve, what materials to destroy, and how to provide access to the materials we select for preservation. Archvists generally come to the profession with either a history background or a library background. Often, with both. Anyway, we believe what we do to be important because in a free and open society, it is important not only to preserve history, but also to make it as transparent as possible. There is a need to preserve the records of the early Republic, of the actions of slave owners during the Civil War, of the diaries and journals of the Lewis and Clark expedition, and, most especially, of our elected representatives throughout our history. The victor may get to write the history, but archivists try to make sure that the writing is reasonably accurate and reflected by the record.

It is important in a free and open society for our government to be accountable, and the best way to keep the government accountable is for the records of goverment operation to be 1) maintained and b) accessible to the citizenry. There's a reason paper shredders are so popular with folks who know they've been naughty and are about to be busted for it-- the record is damning. "Follow the money," goes the famous line, but following the money is only possible if there is a record of where and how the money traveled. Even classified records must be maintained, because some day they may not need to be classified, and then it will be important for us to review them.

I bring this up because I find this to be just totally outrageous. $10,000 and NO JAIL TIME? Are you kidding me with this crap? Sandy Berger deliberately stole classified documents, purposefully destroyed them, and then lied about it to federal authorities! ARE YOU KIDDING ME WITH THIS CRAP?!

Seriously, folks-- records are important, and records at this level are very important. What Berger did stinks not only of cover-up and corruption, it stinks of a huge disregard for us and for the foundation of our society. Berger thumbs his nose at ALL of us, Clinton laughs it off as "good 'ole, Sandy," and the mainstream media barely mentions it. As usual, James Lileks sums up my thoughts on the subject quite nicely:

The whitewash continues, somewhat. Berger's defenders note the Justice Department's carefully worded conclusions: There was no evidence Berger was "trying to conceal information when he illegally took copies of classified terrorism documents," as The Washington Post put it. Investigators decided he'd taken them for "personal convenience ... to prepare testimony." (Apparently it's not so bad to steal the Constitution if you have a quiz on American history the next day.)
Read the whole thing. And please believe me when I tell you-- records are important, and this should be a big deal. To all of us.
I hadn't even thought of this from your perspective. I only cared about it from the perspective that it was shocking to see a former national security advisor (!) attempt to evade federal law governing classified info. That's like the curator of the Smithsonian trying to take the Hope Diamond home for cleaning. Not only does he get a sweetheart deal (does he know someone at the U.S. Attorney's office?), but when does the story break? At the convergence of this year's two biggest news stories -- Terri Schiavo and the pope. If this announcement was planned some time in advance, I will take my Grassy Knoll hat off.
Much to do about nothing much.
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