Thursday, July 23, 2009

Of Lies and Liars

I think it was Flip Wilson who quipped, "A lie is as good as the truth if you can someone to believe it."

Unfortunately, people believe that. They shouldn't have: it was a lie.

A lie is never as good as the truth. A lie is a building foundation that isn't level and sound: everything built upon it is in jeopardy, and the resulting building will only have the illusion of integrity.

A lie is not a mistake. We all say things that are untrue, but we have said them because we genuinely believe them to be true. We have not said it to deliberately mislead.

We have reached a stage in our democratic life where we are constantly and consistently lied to. Politicians and pundits will observe that if the public were told the truth, the politician would never be re-elected. Once the lie is told, it is subsequently shored up by they party or administration's bureaucracy. The fa├žade of lies only has to be good enough to last 4 or 8 years.

The short-term nature of people today means that they will readily lie to get out of a corner and worry about the consequences tomorrow.

The media has an important role to play. First, it is often the cause of lies. It presses for comments 24/7 and will often not allow politicians to have time (days, if necessary) to reflect on issues.

Secondly, the media has a role to play is actively challenging evidence and statements. The public can't do it, and if newspapers are going to continue to be worth buying, the standard of questioning is going to have to improve.

Thirdly, and linked to the second point, the media has to improve the depth of its coverage of public (political) events, and give real news more than three minutes (interrupted with at least one commercial). Current events documentaries from other countries put the US media to shame.

Fourthly, the media needs to know its audience better: the same readers/viewers/listeners to "real" news programs are going to have minimal interest in which jail Lindsay Lohan spent last night; which judge Paris Hilton is schmoozing; or what colour Britney Spears' hair is today.

Political parties (local, state and national): sharpen up your acts. Do it in private, but let your elected members know that your party will not tolerate telling lies to the electorate.

For everyone: push for prosecutions of politicians who have demonstrably lied. The penalties for perjury and Contempt of Congress are considerable and it would only take a handful of prosecutions to re-focus the minds of elected officials. Us corporations could take a strong lead in this and have the financial muscle to make a difference. So do leading law firms who could undertake the work pro-bono (and improve the general image of lawyers.)

A lie is a lie is a lie. When it is told mislead the public, it is a crime.

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