White Lies in an Age of Dishonesty

HONESTY:  Hope Hicks admitted to lying. Do you remember? Horrible? Yes, but the thing is, she’s admitted something we like to pretend (but certainly know) that our leaders don’t do. That doesn’t give her a pass. She lied. Period.

Lying in whatever shape is deplorable. Lies can be via omission. Or, when someone leaves up a anti-politician or anti-religious figure meme after it being clearly being debunked. Before, the lie was still a lie, but not by intention. Leaving it, “But it sounds like something they/he/she would say,” is at this point a lie by intention.

The January 6 United States Capitol attack is packed with lies. Oozing. Mostly with, “Not my fault.” Who lied, to what degree, and what exactly was lied about is a big part of the prosecution’s work. Two things that are well-known: the Capitol was attacked and this insurrection led to five people being killed. So who lied? Then, prosecutors will better know if it was a mindless mob or a coordinated attack (or both?).

Speechwriters Lie

Ethics in professional communications is harder than I’d like it to be. While now I only write speeches (plenty of room to lie in one of those), in my early career, I managed communications for my employer. In one nonprofit, we used a photo of a young boy who wasn’t a beneficiary of our services. The person who had my position before me got it from a stock image house. That boy was gold and helped us raise millions of dollars. A lie? Absolutely.

What counts as lying? That’s a huge, complex subject, far beyond this post. Check out “Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life” by Sissela Bok to explore this further. It’s a fantastic book.

Here are a few thoughts:

  • How photos are cropped or framed?
  • Where does an article begin?
  • Which words are used to describe data or a circumstance?
  • Where did we get our data?
  • Who did we choose to quote?

Lying doesn’t require saying something directly untrue: We can manipulate true things to imply something differently.

It gets messy. In my world, write for long enough and you’ll get facts wrong. That happens and should be remedied as soon as the writer realizes it. Doing it with intention, however good the goal is, is a lie. White lies are still lies.

Each political party has liars. We tend to enjoy just pointing out those in the opposing party, but we need to intelligently listen to those whose views we agree with. As confirmation bias teases us to believe anything singing our tune, we are part of the problem if we don’t equally ferret out the liars whose song we sing.

It isn’t just politicians. Students contact me, asking for homework help. I don’t tolerate this and have on occasion, contacted the student’s principal. These come near the end of the semester, and are so often, that I wrote a short piece explaining I won’t do their homework.

Is it this era? In reality, no. Lying isn’t new. Our interconnected world just lets us see more of it and react quickly to it. There’s nothing new under the sun.

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