Why does the NYT say George Santos "lied"?
May 22, 2023 1:38 PM   Subscribe

The New York Times has a recent piece that repeatedly uses the word "lie" to describe things that George Santos has said. My impression has been that newspapers generally prefer less direct language like "misinformation" or "misleading statements." Is there a policy change here, or does something about Santos's statements pass some test that previous politicians have not?
posted by one for the books to Law & Government (13 answers total)
I think they started doing this with Trump, and that did seem like a policy change to me. My sense is that the NYT and mainstream media in general drop the pretense of objectivity more and more.
posted by FencingGal at 1:52 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]

During the Trump administration, the Times would frequently use the term "falsely stated" or "falsely claimed" rather than "lie," but I think they basically mean the same thing.
posted by cakelite at 1:53 PM on May 22

Their experience over the past 7 years or so with Trump definitely pushed them in the direction of labeling lies lies more often. Here is a 2016 article on the issue in which Dean Baquet, then executive editor of the Times, says "...we have decided to be more direct in calling things out when a candidate actually lies."

One of the arguments for "falsehood" is motive. "Lie" implies intention, but it's possible that someone is making an honest mistake, in which case "telling a falsehood" would be more appropriate. When Trump started campaigning, many journalists erred on the side of caution - after all, they didn't know his intent. After a few months of being burned, and looking more and more foolish, they started being more accurate.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 1:54 PM on May 22 [19 favorites]

Here’s an earlier example.
The NYT created their or style guide, so they don’t use AP. That might make a difference.
posted by mermaidcafe at 1:55 PM on May 22

My sense is that the NYT and mainstream media in general drop the pretense of objectivity more and more

I don't think I'd say this is dropping the pretense of objectivity. I mean, George Santos objectively said things he knew weren't true. That's the dictionary definition. Is it more or less objective to say that "precipitation was observed" or "it rained"? I would argue that it's better to say that it rained, especially concerning people like Santos or Trump whose "misleading statements" have serious negative consequences. And I'd argue that it's less objective to provide cover for someone like Trump to mislead.
posted by kevinbelt at 2:04 PM on May 22 [43 favorites]

My sense is that the NYT and mainstream media in general drop the pretense of objectivity more and more.

They haven't dropped objectivity; they've dropped the pretense that there is no objectivity, that whether a politician's statement is true or false is subjective.

I would guess that the NYT's lawyers have told them that there's so much evidence that George Santos intentionally lied about multiple issues - a combination of (1) Santos admitting to making many specific false claims, and (2) any reasonable person being able to tell those claims were intended to deceive - that they can go ahead and say "lie."
posted by mistersix at 3:39 PM on May 22 [10 favorites]

Trying to force the appearance/style of objectivity can sometimes be an obstacle to objectivity. It's absolutely maddening when a politician is lying and media bend over backwards to give undue credence or credibility to manipulation, especially when part of the manipulation strategy is to amplify their lie through media reporting on it.
posted by GoblinHoney at 3:53 PM on May 22 [6 favorites]

“Lie” is such a simple clear word, children know what it means. Perhaps they are trying to be clearer than they were in the past.
posted by Vatnesine at 4:10 PM on May 22 [2 favorites]

They seem to use lie when it's an undeniable, obvious whopper. Trump lies all the time, egregiously. Santos does the same. I think they still use mislead, misstate, etc., for regular, everyday political bullshit.
posted by theora55 at 4:34 PM on May 22

I think, at least in the UK, the switch from "misleading statements" to "lied" generally happens when they're convicted of lying in court - i.e., once the legal threat of being sued for claiming they've lied has gone away.
posted by parm at 5:33 AM on May 23

I abhor the way the word "lie" is used for every little error in the schoolyard-level backbiting the some people confuse with politics. But Santos lied. No other word for it.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:36 AM on May 23

A recent New York Times newsletter that I received linked to an article in the Columbia Journalism Review by the New York Times publisher, A.G. Sulzberger, about independent journalism/objectivity that you might find interesting.
posted by jabes at 8:11 AM on May 23 [1 favorite]

Cynical me (really just all of me, tbh) thinks they say he lied because he's a junior nobody congressman who likely isn't long for this political world. Politicians lie every single day, including straight up easily provable bald-faced lies, but the NYT sticks with "misled" in most case because of power (either their fear of it or their protection of it). I mean, maybe that's seen as really simplistic and reductionist or whatever, but I dunno, it seems to fit without me having to do all sorts of mental gymnastic to try and understand why Santos is a "liar" and Colon Powell isn't.
posted by flamk at 7:27 PM on May 24 [1 favorite]

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