Small Quibbles

Keelin McDonell's piece about Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence Smallcontained numerous inaccuracies and left readers with a falseimpression ("Smallville," March 5 & 12). McDonell criticizedSecretary Small and his executives, but she failed to include anyresponse from her interview with the Smithsonian's deputysecretary, who answered all her questions. Two specific inaccuraciesin the piece relate to Smithsonian business contracts. First, theimage-licensing agreement with Corbis is not exclusive. People cango directly to the museums for photos, as they always have. Corbisfees vary depending on use, and the museums charge or waivefees--again, depending on use. Also, the Smithsonian currently hasimage-licensing agreements with several other firms. Second, theShowtime contract does not require filmmakers who want significantamounts of Smithsonian content to be "affiliated" with Showtime. Infact, the filmmakers never talk to anyone at Smithsonian Networksor Showtime; they come directly to the Smithsonian. Finally,McDonell's closing comment regarding Small's private feathercollection is wrong--he no longer owns it. The collection wasturned over in 2004 to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Linda St. Thomas

Director of Media Relations

Smithsonian Institution

Keelin McDonell responds:

Linda St. Thomas contends that I "left readers with a falseimpression" of Secretary Small's tenure at the Smithsonian. She maybe pleased, then, to hear of some of the "impressions" of Smallthat have subsequently appeared in The Washington Post, includingreports on his use of Smithsonian funds for, among other things,the interior decorating of his own home and the possibility thatthe attorney general may investigate the legality of Small'sactions. And what St. Thomas labels "inaccuracies" in my piece arenot, in fact, untruths. I never claimed the Corbis deal isexclusive, and the fact that it is nonexclusive does not mean thatit is not harmful-- scholars still must relinquish control of theirimages, without foreknowledge of how those images might be used. Asfor the Showtime deal, the contract clearly states that, unless anindependent project of significant length is offered one of sixyearly exemptions, it must be produced for the Showtime channelSmithsonian on Demand. And, while Small did turn over about 200illegal objects, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,this only amounts to one-fifth of the 1,000 artifacts he hasadmitted to having in his collection. Unless he has otherwisedisposed of those items, they remain his to admire. Instead ofdefending Small, in the future St. Thomas may want to take up thecause of the Smithsonian's true stewards--the scholars whose workhas been compromised by the secretary's cavalier businesspractices.

Oversight Out of Mind

While reading a recent edition of your magazine, I was surprised tolearn that "[f]or over a decade, GOP oversight committees treatedbusinesses with the lightest of touches" ("Hearing Aid," February5). That statement is simply wrong. As the House Energy andCommerce Committee's chief oversight and investigations counselduring that time, I had the privilege to serve under committeechairmen Joe Barton, Billy Tauzin, and Tom Bliley. Collectively,they held more than 200 investigative hearings. While I can't speakfor all Republicans, I'll stack our record up against that of anycommittee in any era-- Democrat or Republican--in terms of scope,depth, and quality. Our investigations of Enron/Arthur Andersen,WorldCom, Global Crossing, and Qwest brought corporate ethics tocenter stage and directly resulted in passage of the landmarkSarbanes-Oxley legislation. Our Ford/Firestone investigationproduced the Tread Act, the most significant upgrade of auto-safetyrules in more than a decade, and our work on hospital billingpractices forced some of the country's largest hospitals to adoptchanges that are now benefiting some of society's most vulnerablecitizens. As for the pharmaceutical industry, our investigationinto prescription-drug reimbursement under Medicare and Medicaidresulted in changes to the law that will save taxpayers an estimated$25 billion over the next ten years. Recently, we held BPaccountable for oil spills on Alaska's North Slope, much to thechagrin of critics who claimed that a Republican Congress wouldnever challenge Big Oil. In addition, by shining the nationalspotlight on Hewlett-Packard's corporate spying scandal, thecommittee made more Americans aware of the limits to our privacy,prompting Congress to enact the first federal ban on the insidiouspractice of "pretexting." In virtually every investigation, we madepublic thousands of key internal corporate and government documentsso that the American people could judge matters for themselves. Somuch for light touches! During my tenure, everyone associated withthe Energy and Commerce Committee--on both sides of the aisle--considered oversight and investigations not only a constitutionalobligation, but a moral imperative. I am extremely proud of the workthat we did, the tremendous staff that I worked with, and therepresentatives that I served. Chairman John Dingell is well-knownfor his tenacious oversight, and that will likely continue. Butthere can be little doubt that our record of vigorous, meaningfulinvestigations has bolstered the distinguished legacy of thiscommittee.

Mark Paoletta

Chief counsel for oversight & investigations at the House Energy andCommerce Committee 1997-2007

Bradford Plumer responds:

Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee did conduct afew investigations--many of them quite valuable. But consider somenumbers. In 1993- 94, under Dingell's chairmanship, the committee'soversight efforts culminated in a 117-page report tallying itsactivities. A decade later, under Republican Joe Barton, its workcould be summarized in a mere 24 pages. Or, as Barton himself toldThe Boston Globe in 2005, "Republicans in general have notemphasized oversight in the way that Mr. Dingell did." In any case,I'm amused by the notion that Republicans were the scourge of BigOil because they held hearings on a broken pipeline. If only theyhad applied similar scrutiny to the millions in subsidies theyhanded out to oil companies over the years.

department of corrections:

Due to an editing mistake, "This American Lie" (March 19) described"This American Life" as an NPR program. In fact, it is distributedby Public Radio International. We regret the error.