Sunday, February 5, 2017

Lies or Falsehoods?

Threat Against Democracy (TAD). Last week NPR had a segment in which it explained why it is referring to administration statements as falsehoods rather than lies. The rationale is simple.  The word “lies” implies intent to deceive whereas Falsehood leaves open the possibility that the speaker does not know that what is being said is wrong.  Seems simple enough, right? 

Let’s take a look at one of last week’s controversies through the lens of falsehood or lie.

Kelllyanne Conway, counselor to Trump, made headlines this week when she claimed that (1) there was a massacre in Bowling Green, (2) it was masterminded by two radicalized Iraqis and (3) that President Obama instituted a six month ban on the Iraqi refugee program as a result.  We all know that none of these things happened.  Lies or Falsehoods?  Conway seems to say they were the latter.  Her explanation was that “mistakes abound.”  What does that mean?  Is it a reference to the abundance of untrue statements not only from her, but also from others in the administration or is she just saying “everyone makes mistakes sometimes?”

It matters.  If she really made an honest mistake, she has an obligation not just to admit it, but also to take steps to keep such mistakes from happening in the future.  Lots of people make lots of mistakes, but Kellyanne and the rest of the administration have a different responsibility to ensure their statements aren’t false.  Their honest mistakes can result in great harm to individuals, organizations, this country and others, and can lead to economic disarray and even war.  If she made an honest mistake, she has a responsibility to understand where the misinformation came from, why it wasn’t verified before she repeated it in public and what she’s going to do to ensure that additional errors don’t occur in the future. So does everyone in the administration  And we have a responsibility to demand that they do that and explain the new procedures in public.

And what if she and others in the administration are lying?  Well, the consequences to individuals and others here and around the world are similar to those I listed above.  However, the likelihood of their occurrence might be higher since there is some motive behind the lies.  They may not intend those outcomes, but the seeds are being sown nonetheless.

I understand the distinction NPR was making, but it seems to me that, in many ways, it’s a distinction without a difference.  What’s worse, an administration that has a policy of lying to attain its goals at all costs or one that is so bent on attaining those goals regardless of the cost that it is unable to distinguish between truth and falsehood? 

Either way it’s a TAD.

Do you think this topic is important?  If so, please share.

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