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What is the cost of lies?: A billboard for HBO's "Chernobyl" brings 9/11's toxic aftermath to mind

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The other day walking from my office in lower Manhattan to City Hall across Broadway I saw an MTA bus billboard for the HBO mini-series Chernobyl. The image on the poster was of clean-up workers with respirators shrouded in a toxic cloud with a simple question under the haunting image that read “What is the cost of lies?”

It struck me as ironic that on that particularly sunny day the rolling billboard was making its way through the very streets in lower Manhattan that almost 18 years ago were shrouded in a similarly toxic looking clouds after the collapse of the World Trade Center towers.

The scale and nature of the two events are vastly different. Chernobyl’s 1986 explosion and ensuing conflagration was an industrial disaster of planetary consequence while the WTC event was the result of a terrorist attack.

The area in the Ukraine around the Chernobyl site won’t be inhabitable for thousands of years while the rebuilt WTC complex is one of the busiest tourist attractions in the city.

Yet, in both situations, the governments lied by sugar coating the level of environmental contamination and risk for the workers doing the clean-up and the civilians living in proximity. And as a consequence, thousands of additional lives have been lost and will continue to be lost.

In each instance, it was an overriding concern for the economy, markets, and national image that motivated political leaders to betray the public trust with deadly consequences for the citizens who that believed their pronouncements.

Back in 2008, the Los Angeles Times reported on a Ukrainian parliamentary commission investigation into how the disaster’s aftermath was handled by the Soviet and Ukrainian Communist Party bureaucracies. The probe found that local officials “ordered weddings to go ahead on the day of the accident, despite a shower of radioactivity, to persuade people that nothing was amiss.”

Three days after the 9/11 attack it was former New Jersey Governor Christie Todd........

© Salon