Lies and Half-truths

(1) Here’s how Eugene Robinson describes one lie episode:

Former New Hampshire governor John Sununu, one of Mitt Romney’s more pugnacious surrogates, almost had a conniption fit Tuesday when CNN’s Soledad O’Brien pressed him on his assertion that President Obama “gutted Medicare by taking $717 billion out of it.” As Sununu knows but refused to acknowledge, this is not true. … When O’Brien reminded Sununu of these facts, he barked that she should “put an Obama bumper sticker on your forehead.” But the claim that Obama had “gutted Medicare” remained false, and O’Brien told Sununu: “You can’t just repeat it and make it true, sir.”

(2) And another way the right can lie, from the Wash Post:

Today, I own a small business, an asset management firm with $300 million in assets. Last year we launched the Roumell Opportunistic Value Fund (RAMSX) and hired three more people. We’re growing and creating jobs. I suppose I could pound my chest and take credit for my journey from Detroit to Chevy Chase, from working class to professional. I could say I built it myself. But this wouldn’t be true.

(3) And here is E J Dionne, characterizing the right’s strategy of half-truths:

By putting Medicare on the ballot, Ryan threatens to push away core Republican voters. That’s why Romney went up so quickly with advertisements attacking Obama for reducing spending on Medicare.

(4) Listen to partisan media or mouthpieces for a few minutes:

Obama’s socialist proposals are crippling the country. We need a smaller government. Our government is broke. Save the constitution. So-and-so hates America. We could become Europe, heaven forbid.

Let’s look at these examples. The first method is to repeat false things enough until they sound like they must be true. Lie big, as the saying goes. The second method is to remove facts that get in the way, and then spout the falsehood that remains. The third way is to charge your opponent first with whatever crime you are guilty of yourself. The fourth way is to avoid the facts (and the topic at hand) entirely and repeat a catch phrase that sounds good.

Here is some anger at right spinning from a conservative, taken from James Fallows’ blog on The Atlantic:

Bob Lutz, a long-time titan of the auto industry, has in recent years devoted himself to the development of GM’s electric car, the Chevy Volt. This is what he says in an interview with Charged, a magazine covering the electric-vehicle business. For context it’s worth noting that Lutz, a former Marine Corps aviator, is on the right-wing side of the normal U.S. political scale (emphasis added).

The level of owner satisfaction is extremely high. Quality and reliability is extremely high. Butthe downside is that the political extreme right has been distorting the facts of the Volt.

The Volt passed the government crash tests with a five-star safety rating, and didn’t roll over. But the testing protocol requires that even if the vehicle doesn’t roll, it has to go through the rotisserie maneuver, which is five minutes on one side, five minutes on its back, five minutes on the other side, and then back on its wheels again. At some point during the rotisserie, some fluid leaked out, and three weeks later caused a short in the battery and the vehicle caught fire. I mean, how safe it that? Three weeks should give people adequate time to exit the vehicle. 

And what did all these right-wing commentators make of that? “Chevy Volts catch fire.” All of them were talking about “yeah, they all catch fire. GM’s gonna recall ’em. There’s just another Obama-inspired program – a misguided socialist automotive policy. And not only did they spend a lot of your hard-earned tax dollars creating this vehicle, but now they put a $7500 tax credit on it.”

Well, there are a couple of things wrong with all those statements. First of all, the Volt was my idea in 2006. We showed the first prototype at the Detroit Auto Show in 2007. Obama wasn’t elected until late 2008, so Obama could not be the progenitor of the Chevy Volt. And what they also conveniently forget is that the $7500 tax credit for electric vehicles was enacted under the Bush administration….

And these people are supposed to be for American jobs? They did such reputational damage to the Volt that the demand dipped to a very low level. So GM did the right thing, which was to idle production for 5 weeks and lay off workers. So here are these right-wing pundits who are always talking about jobs, jobs, jobs. Actually through their irresponsible reporting on the Chevrolet Volt they managed to put American workers out of their jobs for five weeks! It annoys me to no end. …

As a conservative myself politically, it annoys me no end to see deliberate lying and misinformation coming out where they will trash an outstanding American product and do damage to American employment just to get at Obama. That’s just plain unethical.

Let me be clear, the left does all of this too. Ultimately, I think if a count of who tells the most lies, clearly the right does more. But that is not my point here. My point is about credibility and standards. In our present era of political mud fights, nobody can claim to be clean. Never wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty, but the pig loves it. I just wish things would be a little cleaner. The right would say that for the left, the big lie is that all solutions should involve throwing money at them. The left would accuse the right of wanting to gut the government programs and regulation and allow corruption to reign freely. These premises are philosophical foundations that are based on religion, how we were brought up, the influence of friends and the media.

Right now, the culture is laden with accusations to the other side. We feel safe when we retreat to those who agree with us. These are the same techniques, albeit ladled on much thicker, that are used by cult leaders and child abductors. George Orwell warned of this kind of society. Why do we take such refuge in our own rose colored worlds? Routinely, Fox (for the right) and MSNBC (for the left) outscore CNN (supposed to be more neutral) in ratings. I am confident that conversations that begin about politics only continue if they find common ground on one side or the other; it gets too uncomfortable when one learns the person near them is on The Other Side.

Now, you think I should plea for people to speak honestly to each other. Well, that’s part of it. But let’s demand more from the press and politicians, too. Keep people honest (as Anderson Cooper says). Call out lies, and get people to back them up. Recognize talking points and catch phrases that spin the facts (death panel, death tax, unpopular program, failure, job-killing, socialism). Be strong enough to use multiple media, and change the channel when truth is spun. Hold people to back up what they say with reality, not just platitudes. And when someone actually looks for the truth, don’t ridicule them.

If the people truly are the power base for their government, if consumers rule the economy, then wake up. Use your crap detector.

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About Jim

I've been leading outdoor environmental education in the YMCA since the 1970s. I love teaching nature, history, current events, being a dad, fixing stuff, groups, and general thinking.
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