You’re being lied to. Sometimes, you’re repeating the lies, making you look as ignorant as the original liar. Often, even after you find out your lie is a lie, you cling to it anyway.
James Holmes, the gunman at the Colorado theater, is a member of the Tea Party.
No, sorry, that’s a lie. Turns out, he’s a registered Democrat.
Oops, that’s a lie too. Pick the lie that fits best into your narrative and run with it though. That seems to be what’s happening to modern American discourse.
As Poynter.org pointed out here, both ABC News and Breitbart respectively reported the two lies above then took a while before coming out with half-hearted corrections. That’s a few weeks after reporters from CNN and FOX lied to us about the Supreme Court verdict.
“‘Lies,’ that’s a bit harsh, Osvaldo,” say you. And you might be right, I’ve made a bunch of mistakes in my career, and so have the folks I edit. They’re not lies as much as they are errors. However, it’s true that today, factual errors just don’t carry the stigma they once did for reporters. We’ve all collectively shrugged our shoulders and said, “Eh, what’cha gonna do? Staffs are minimal, workloads are onerous and mistakes, they just happen.” The press has been getting it so wrong lately, and failed to do enough to correct the problem, that journalism’s ineptitude is becoming epidemic. At some point, we have to stop giving those charged with getting us information free passes when that information is wrong and news outlets’ attempts to correct themselves are insufficient or nonexistent. Particularly with outlets that handle breaking news, there are checks and balances that can and should be implemented to avoid major errors. If there are ways of circumventing errors and journalists don’t implement those methods (regardless of whether its due to miserliness, the ambition to be first or laziness) then those mistakes begin to take some of the pernicious attributes of lies.
Maybe by calling these errors lies, perhaps we’ll be more careful not to make them. It’s a tricky proposition, because held to this standard, I’ll inevitably be a liar myself somewhere down the road.
But then, sometimes, the public wants to be lied to. Take for example, the biggest lie of last week. It’s a lie that’s so big that it became The Daily Beast’s Meme of the Week. I heard it first from a colleague, a smart and savvy business man, who said in response to President Obama’s visit to Southwest Florida that he was pretty mad at the president for saying that he hadn’t built his business. “I don’t know, I worked real hard to build this business and create more than 50 jobs,” I’m paraphrasing, but you get the gist. A few hours later, another guy — an avowed but convivial Obama hater — popped his head in my office, “Hey, just remember, small business didn’t build itself. The govenment built it. Ha!” Mitt Romney has been repeating the lie too, telling a crowd last week in Massachusetts that the president’s “you didn’t build that” remark “…wasn’t a gaffe. It was his ideology.”
Well, Romney was only half right. The line wasn’t a gaffe. In the context of what the president was saying, it made perfect sense. And it’s hard to construe what was said as You didn’t build your business the government did it for you. But that’s what a lot of liars would have you believe. Here’s what the president said:
If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business. you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.
Perhaps the president’s line was placed awkwardly, but it’s clear that the president was referring to roads and the Internet when he was telling small business owners that they didn’t build that. He didn’t mean that they had not built their businesses. I encourage you to read the entire speech and some analysis by Jake Tapper here.
Mitt Romney and his advisors know the president didn’t mean that business owners don’t build their own businesses. The other guys — the brilliant colleague and the convivial hater and the guys from Crowther Roofing (see below) — maybe they’re just not paying attention. Maybe they just picked their narrative and are sticking with it. Perhaps they don’t have time for the truth. Regardless, they’re spreading a lie, which is, well, kind of like lying. And it’s time we stopped giving that kind of thing a free pass and started asking for accountability, from our journalists, our politicians and everybody else.