Tell Me Lies
October 13, 2004 6:42 PM   Subscribe

Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies: I am sick and tired of this American election cycle. My biggest frustration, especially in the presidential debate: When a candidate lies outright, no one says 'You're a liar.' Why not? [More falsehoods inside]

In the political debates tonight, I caught several instances where Bush and Kerry said the exact opposite thing. Exact. Not exaggerations or misclassifications or obfuscations, but A = B. Why doesn't one of them call the other a liar? I work for a newspaper, and I understand the time-honored (and stupid) tradition that we reporters can't make calls on whether someone's full of crap. But why does politics seem to have this golden rule of Thou shall cheat and steal and lie but NEVER EVER call your opponent a liar?
posted by Happydaz to Law & Government (12 answers total)
You work for a newspaper and don't understand why a candidate for president can't call the incumbent a liar? Because people would find it offensive and not vote for him. The real question is why newspapers, who are supposed to be searching for truth, don't do it.
posted by jpoulos at 7:03 PM on October 13, 2004

Response by poster: OK, fine. But these debates are full of outrageous statements. At some level, isn't it worth the offensive idea of calling someone a liar if they're, you know, lying? (And jpoulos, I agree that newspapers should be calling it like it is. We don't. But my question is why is this an unwritten rule?)
posted by Happydaz at 7:11 PM on October 13, 2004

Because to say that someone lied is not simply to say that they're wrong, it's to say that they know that they're wrong and they're deliberately being dishonest. It's also to say that the issue is extraordinarily clear cut, because putting "spin" on an issue isn't lying.

Very, very few important political issues are that clear cut, and if it seems that way to you then you may not understand the issue yet. And even if the issue is that clear cut, it's rarely that clear cut to your opponent. So even if he's wrong, he may not be lying. And even the issue is clear cut to your opponent, so that he must be lying, it's never that clear cut to all the Joe Average Voter's out there, and now you've called them stupid and dishonest.

Every group perpetuates the myth that it's opponents are evil, and that the group's truths are clearly true. If that's true, than the only way the other side can accumulate followers and political power is if they're deceiving all the ignorant, inferior undecided souls out there.
posted by gd779 at 8:16 PM on October 13, 2004

There's nothing inferior about being gullible. It's quite typical.
posted by inksyndicate at 8:48 PM on October 13, 2004

I work for a newspaper, and I understand the time-honored (and stupid) tradition that we reporters can't make calls on whether someone's full of crap.

Say what? Time-honored my ass. You think Messrs. Hearst and Pulitzer didn't call a liar a liar? Read some Ambrose Bierce sometime. Nope, sorry, can't blame this one on tradition; bullshit gutless media pandering posing as objectivity is hardly Holy Writ.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 10:05 PM on October 13, 2004

I posted something on this a while back.
posted by gottabefunky at 10:19 PM on October 13, 2004

Interestingly, the truth in advertising laws frequently don't apply, either.
posted by arto at 11:24 PM on October 13, 2004

gd779 nailed it. It is really hard to define a "lie" when talking about politics. Bush said Kerry had raised taxes 220 times or whatever tonight. The CNN fact checker explained that - no, that was not strictly so. Bush was counting things like votes against tax decreases, votes on preliminary bills, committee votes, and votes on major legislation that may have had a small rider regarding some obscure tax buried in the fine print somewhere. Thus it's hard to say Bush was technically lying flat-out . . . he was just being very misleading. That's why Kerry could claim he only voted for tax increases 16 times in 20 years or whatever. Sure, his statement is much closer to the truth in layman's terms, but the campaigns have people who are expert in extracting things that are deceptive, and especially, out-of-context. Both sides do it, and it's tough to call their very twisted spins a plain "lie" - even though most people would understand it as such if they sat down and analysed them.
Remember, Bill Clinton "didn't have sex with that woman." Well, technically, according to how "sex" was defined in his court case, he was telling the truth - since "sex" had been defined there as intercourse.yet with enough time and details, people saw this as the dishonest statement it was. I think that's the key - there are a lot of things they say that are dishonest, just not lies.
posted by sixdifferentways at 12:53 AM on October 14, 2004

also, part of it is simply let others do the dirty work. For example, Cheney claimed he never met Edwards before the debate, which was quickly proven false. But Edwards didn't challenge it. Why? Cause then Cheney could have (explained/weaseled, depending on your POV) it away. "Well, i never really got to meet you officially....."

By keeping quiet, and letting the news break the next day, the Veep had no chance to respond, and apppearing to go out of his way to get a chance to kinda sorta wordplay it would have hurt him too.

By the same token, expect many replays of bush's comments about not being too concerned about Osama in the next few days.

(and this goes both ways, just being a Kerry partisan, I had anti-bush examples off the top of my head. change the names if you like.)
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 1:21 AM on October 14, 2004

Having worked for a newspaper, it's very important to get your facts straight. You can't call someone a rapist if they're still on trial for rape, for example, because they haven't been convicted yet. You can't call someone a liar (like Shrub) if he says, "Well, I don't remember saying that." He's wrong, of course, but it's unproveable that he's lying.

Think: Ronald Reagan at the Iran/Contra hearings. "Well, I don't recall..." "Shucks, I plum don't remember..." etc. The term is plausable deniability, and all politicians learn very early on to phrase their statements in such a way so it can't bite them in the ass later on.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:51 AM on October 14, 2004

FactCheck and SpinSanity come about as close as I've seen...
posted by baylink at 10:47 AM on October 14, 2004

jpoulos: You work for a newspaper and don't understand why a candidate for president can't call the incumbent a liar? Because people would find it offensive and not vote for him.

Bob Dole, 1988, during the primaries, when asked if he had anything to say to Vice President Bush, who was running negative ads against him: "Tell him to stop lying about my record."

Thus ended Dole's quest for that year's nomination.
posted by macrone at 4:23 PM on October 14, 2004

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