Chapter 18
Deny, Deny, Deny
The Capitolium, Atlantis City, Earth, Earth Sphere
Date: Thu 07 May 123
Time: UST 1030

The job of press secretary was one of the least enviable in the world. The higher the level, the worse it was and you didn't get much higher than the Office of the Chairman of the World Council. Mitt Fairbanks used to be the Atlantis City bureau chief for GNS and three years later, it still felt strange facing the press corps from behind the podium.
He knew better than to expect his job to get any easier once the end of the war was declared. There would always be some sort of scandal or policy dispute and it was his job to do damage control. Right now there was a lot of damage to control.
Without wasting any time, he greeted the assembled correspondents, saying, "Thank you all for coming. Let's get right down to business. As you know, MCN has been kicking up a lot of dust the past few days and we would like to address that. Please hold all questions to the end."
In all truth, Fairbanks had no idea whether the stories MCN had been putting up had any veracity to them or not. All he knew was the party line and delivering it to a crowd of skeptical if not outright hostile journalists without flinching was part and parcel of the job.
"First off, the Office of the Chairwoman condemns the irresponsible journalism of MCN and the untold damage these stories are causing. Much of what has been allegedly revealed in the recent reports are either completely untrue or wildly distorted to mislead the viewers. The Ministry of Justice will be launching an investigation to determine if these reports meet the legal standard for deliberation and malice needed to prosecute the parties involved.
"On behalf of the Chairwoman, I would like to categorically repudiate the following claims. There is no basis in fact whatsoever regarding the allegations of misconduct by former Chairman Richthofen. Tabitha Harold is not the mother of Dieter Richthofen and Dieter Richthofen is most certainly not Colonel Matthias Harold.
"The claims of man-machine hybrids produced by the Iota Series synthetics have no scientific basis whatsoever. This was definitively disproven twenty-five years ago and the findings stand to this day. The Redbloods have been known for their hyperbolic propaganda since their inception and far more skepticism should have been observed regarding their claims.
"Next, the so-called Einherjar Project does not exist. While there were a number of classified training programs designed to optimize the warfighting capacity of our servicemembers, this Einherjar Project as portrayed is total fantasy. There is certainly no connection between any real-life program and the shooter involved in the Camp Chisholm Incident, which was simply a case of workplace violence brought on by pre-traumatic stress disorder.
"The so-called Ticonderoga Nine is another fiction. That decorated and distinguished servicemembers--two Heroes of the Union among them--would be counted as traitors tried by a secret tribunal is patently absurd. No one has been charged with treason since the Lunar Revolt and it is shameful to see the good names of our fighting men and women dragged through the mud for a cheap ratings ploy.
"Lastly, regarding today's report, which I trust this press conference is interrupting, it beggars all belief that this fiasco would be topped off with something so ludicrous as to claim that Sheolites were actually the product of this government. I have run across a number of crazy conspiracy theories in my day, but this really takes the cake. Hell, it takes the whole damn patisserie."
He chuckled nervously at his joke, but if anyone in the crowd thought it was clever, they were keeping it to themselves.
Clearing his throat, Fairbanks continued, "This is no joking matter, though. The courts will be deciding the criminal liability when the Ministry of Justice presents its case in the coming weeks, but on a moral and ethical level, I strongly encourage the decision-makers at MCN to reevaluate their priorities and do the right thing. MCN is a network with a devoted following numbering in the millions and should really be displaying a little more conscience than what we've seen in recent days."
He pause for a moment to let his words sink in before saying, "Okay. Let's open the floor to some questions." Immediately the hands went up and Fairbanks picked one. "Marwan?"
Marwan Hussein of An-Nahrain stood up and said, "The government is substantially denying the entirety of MCN's recent series."
"I'm not seeing the question," Fairbanks replied.
"Is the government going to be providing any substantive proof to refute the claims of these reports?"
"We are currently evaluating the appropriate releases to the public to counter the false claims in the report. Sudie?"
Karel Sudek of the Osteu Daily stood up and asked, "Are you going so far as to say that Piers Berg faked all his sources?"
"The investigation will determine the true nature of these sources and the full degree of Mr. Berg's culpability in the matter. Okay. Two more. Celes?"
The next one up was Celestine Landrieu of VTBS. It was an underhanded move on the part of her network to assign her to the press corps. They knew she and Fairbanks had been coworkers when she was at GNS--more than just coworkers, actually--and they no doubt thought they could use that as leverage against him. He had to walk a tricky tightrope, showing neither favoritism for her nor discrimination against her. Either one could be used to sink him, but he had managed to avoid any serious accusations thus far.
Though they parted on more or less amicable terms, Celes was always cold as ice and hard as a rock when she was on the clock. There would be no soft pitches from her and Fairbanks knew what he was getting himself into when he called on her.
"This is nothing new," she said, "but your comments about 'irresponsible reporting' are sure to have a chilling effect in the media. Is this really the face the government wants to present to the public?"
Going for the low blows as always. She did not address the substance of the reports or the government's rebuttal, but this meta layer was sure to be the buzz of all the opinion columns. This would be a good chance to head them off at the pass.
"This administration values the constitutional rights of freedom of speech and freedom of the press, but as you should be well aware, these rights aren't unrestricted and absolute. Stories like the ones we've been seeing lately that are so wildly defamatory and false can't be allowed to stand without consequences. The media wields enormous power and influence and if it uses these irresponsibly, it's the government's job to correct those errors for the good of the people."
That would give the editorialists something to write about. Time to move on.
"Last one. Gooma."
Idris Nguma of the Zanj Times glowered at him a bit. He seemed to take Fairbanks' nickname of him as a deliberate insult, but he needed to have thicker skin if her was going to work in the media biz.
"Is the government prepared to declassify relevant material to better make its case to the public?"
"The government is always evaluating and reevaluating classified information in the interests of security and the public's right to know. As a matter of necessity, the former must trump the latter, but if there is any information that can be safely declassified in the course of the coming case against MCN, that information will be released accordingly.
"And that'll do it for today's conference. As always, forward any additional questions to my office and we'll respond as we can. Thank you."
Fairbanks stepped away from the podium and once he was out of view of the press corps, he allowed himself the luxury of breathing a sigh of relief. It never got any easier.
He knew he was nothing more than a mouthpiece for the government and was never trusted with anything beyond the official talking points he had to deliver to the press. He knew the information he delivered wasn't always true, but he believed it was necessary for the Union's security. Even so, he shuddered to think if even fraction of the things he just denied were in fact true. This sort of thing plagued him from time to time and he wondered if he'd make it to the end of Chairwoman Liu's term or not. There was a nice bonus in it for him if he did, but was that enough to keep him going? He didn't know.
It wasn't even noon yet, but he needed a drink. The flood of questions that was inevitably pouring into his office could wait.