Friday, April 13, 2007

The Rose Mary Woods Stretch

Naturally, I have something to say about the public relations debacle, now reported in the Associated Press, that the Republicans are facing about missing e-mails linked to the firing of federal prosecutors who were seen as excessively Democrat-friendly. The Los Angeles Times reports that this may also be a violation of federal law and of the principle of maintaining public records. The irony, of course, is that most private sector employees are being held highly accountable for their e-mail from work-related addresses or machines, e-mail which is generally archived and often monitored by superiors. And this is the same branch of the federal government that wanted Internet Service Providers to lengthen their data maintenance periods, supposedly so the Justice Department could catch more child molesters and terrorists.

As I've argued before, the e-mail of public policy makers tends to function more often as damning evidence than it does as inspiring first-person testimony, particularly when disasters or scandals are involved. What I find interesting is the characterization of the missing e-mails as a "dog ate my homework" excuse. Really, it's more like the "Rose Mary Woods Stretch," which describes an improbable combination of events that somehow leads to erasures of data on a newfangled yet ubiquitous device. The term comes from cynicism about a story told by Nixon's loyal secretary about suspiciously convenient silence in the middle of an incriminating section of audiotape.



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