A Lie By Any Other Name

“And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.”

-George Orwell, 1984

By Laurie Kotka

In May 2016, 7 in 10 Republican voters identified their reason for supporting Donald Trump as his tendency to “say it like it is.”

His apparent lack of sugar-coating resonated with voters.

Saying it like it comes easy when you don’t have to worry about trivial things like facts.

This week, Wall Street Journal Editor-in-Chief Gerard Baker announced he didn’t want to call Donald Trump’s half-truths “lies” because it connotes a moral intent to mislead. He added that reporters should state facts and refrain from value judgments. Anything else should be left to the reader, a sentiment Trump reinforced just days later.

By Baker’s own definition, to lie means to make a statement with the intent to deceive. For example, Trump makes statement “x” which is subsequently verified and proven false. That means Trump’s statement was not accurate and is either:

  1. A lie. This includes deliberating over/understatement to confuse the truth, outright falsehoods, and lies of omission.
  2. Wrong simply because he didn’t know what he was talking about.

 

A Hypothetical Example

My son took a math test. I asked him how he did and he reported the grade as an A. Later, when reviewing his grades online, I learned the grade was actually an F. It was not a matter of him reporting a 94% and just being off by a few percentage points.

There is not much to be mistaken about.

He lied.

Like it or not, this is just as much objective fact as saying the test in question was a math test. Of course, he told the lie with the intent to deceive. Calling it as such does not equate to a value judgment because lie is exactly what he did. To leave the characterization out intentionally omits a significant part of the story. A lie of omission or just bad writing?

If I leave out the fact that he lied, the reader is left to fill in the blanks. Is it possible something happened that resulted in a grade change? Did he earn extra credit? Or did he really lie?

If Baker’s intent is to let the reader make the value assessment, it is essential to present the reader with the necessary facts.

Facts, truth, and lies should be constants. No matter who says it, a lie is a lie. It shouldn’t change dependent on the person.

What’s the big deal?

To suggest the press should refrain from calling something a lie because it constitutes a value judgment means that a lie, and therefore the truth, is to be defined by the individual. In other words, Lying and Truth are subjective and can not be defined universally. If that’s the case, there is no universal standard for words either. The individual gets to define what they mean. And if that’s the case, communication – the essence of reporting – is inherently flawed.

Without being able to call something that it is, we become further mired in the quicksand of Fake News. What should be unacceptable now swarms social media sites, viral and insidious.

It has become increasingly difficult to discern the truth from a lie. Fake News is just a lie, supported by more lies, with a few facts thrown in for good measure.

We rely on the media to report, with accuracy, matters like government affairs. The things our leaders say and do ultimately affects all of us. Without transparent reporting, we can’t hold our leaders accountable. It’s a shame this is a necessity, but when your leader displays a blatant disregard for the truth, we must pursue it all the more ardently.

I wish I had been keeping track of every one of Trump’s lies. But there aren’t enough hours in the day. And shame on me, I didn’t think it would matter.

It does.

If we become immune to his lies, when it is of history-altering significance, it will be too late to change.

For those interested, PolitiFact tests many of Trump’s statements for accuracy and rates them accordingly. To add historical context, TorontoStar compiled a list of nearly 500 lies Trump issued during his campaign. (Which reminds me. The world is watching this happen. This is how our leader is representing us to the rest of the world. Awesome.)

 

Playing By Trump’s Own Rules

Honesty seems to be a bigly thing for The Donald. He is quick to point out dishonesty in others. Certainly, if he has a talent for anything, it’s that. This list is also quite long, but just a few of the highlights?

 

So, isn’t the media simply playing by the rules of Trump’s own game?

  • Naming the liar
  • Saying it like it is
  • Seeking accuracy and honesty

When confronting the eventuality that Trump was the GOP nominee, my immediate dismay wasn’t about his policies. Those were under constant revision just like Trump’s brand of the Truth. It was simply concerning that he could do so much wrong to so many people while his supporters just turned a blind eye.

While I take no joy in this reality, we must now fight to protect the truth and the media’s ability to report it.

I understand. The man lies at such an alarming rate, it is quite a task to keep up with. I am encouraging you to remain steadfast in always holding your elected officials accountable, no matter who they are or what party they represent.

The truth should never be defined by those with little respect for it.

 

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