Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


The Ten Commandments don't actually contain a broad prohibition against lying - only the narrower injunction, "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor." Nevertheless Christians generally agree that it's a sin to tell a lie. Journalists obey an additional commandment: it's a sin to say that George W. Bush is lying.

Here's Peter Canellos in the Boston Globe, who comes as close as he can without endangering his immortal soul:

The president's campaign mantra this time is the same as in 2004 -- that the Iraq war is the war on terrorism, and that Democrats don't properly understand the terrorist threat.

Most of the recent violence has been along sectarian lines, between Iraqi Shi'ites and Sunnis who are battling for control of the country, but Bush nonetheless identifies the enemy as ``the terrorists," and last week, he reminded voters that Osama bin Laden wants the United States to fail in Iraq.

Bush's argument is that a withdrawal from Iraq -- which would be encouraged by a Democratic senatorial majority -- would signal US weakness, and would embolden terrorist groups.

This depends on the highly debatable notion that groups like Al Qaeda, which have no country and which operate on multiple continents, are deterred by the fear of US retaliation against countries in the Middle East.

Nonetheless, Bush's argument plays well on the stump. It showcases his steely determination and, perhaps, gives voters the misperception that US troops in Iraq are locked in combat with armies of terrorists.

Canellos thinks that this "argument" -- which is actually, you know, a lie, even though he isn't allowed to say so -- is likely to succeed, and will enable the Republicans to hold onto the Senate. But what is a necessary condition for such a lie to be effective? That the newspapers and television and radio stations that transmit it to the public refrain from pointing out that it is, in fact, a lie.

If you simply google the phrase "Bush lies" you will find that innumerable citizens have taken up the challenge to document the White House Occupant's innumerable lies. I didn't have time to thoroughly check them out, but here's one that's pretty well organized and straightforward. So it really doesn't require any serious journalistic enterprise to debunk the administration's lies or to conclude that George W. Bush is, in fact, a habitual and remorseless liar. But they just let him get away with it. Here's what Eric Alterman had to say about this way back in 2002, while the lies added up only Mount Rainier, not yet Mount Everest.

President Bush is a liar. There, I said it, but most of the mainstream media won't. Liberal pundits Michael Kinsley, Paul Krugman and Richard Cohen have addressed the issue on the Op-Ed pages, but almost all news pages and network broadcasts pretend not to notice. In the one significant effort by a national daily to deal with Bush's consistent pattern of mendacity, the Washington Post's Dana Milbank could not bring himself (or was not allowed) to utter the crucial words. Instead, readers were treated to such complicated linguistic circumlocutions as: Bush's statements represented "embroidering key assertions" and were clearly "dubious, if not wrong." The President's "rhetoric has taken some flights of fancy," he has "taken some liberties," "omitted qualifiers" and "simply outpace[d] the facts." But "Bush lied"? Never.

Ben Bradlee explains, "Even the very best newspapers have never learned how to handle public figures who lie with a straight face. No editor would dare print this version of Nixon's first comments on Watergate for instance. 'The Watergate break-in involved matters of national security, President Nixon told a national TV audience last night, and for that reason he would be unable to comment on the bizarre burglary. That is a lie.'" . . .

Let us note, moreover, that Bradlee's observation, offered in 1997, did not apply to President Clinton. Reporters were positively eager to call Clinton a liar, although his lies were about private matters about which many of us, including many reporters, lie all the time. "I'd like to be able to tell my children, 'You should tell the truth,'" Stuart Taylor Jr. of the National Journal said on Meet the Press. "I'd like to be able to tell them, 'You should respect the President.' And I'd like to be able to tell them both things at the same time." David Gergen, who had worked for both Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon as well as Clinton and therefore could not claim to be a stranger to official dishonesty, decried what he termed "the deep and searing violation [that] took place when he not only lied to the country, but co-opted his friends and lied to them." Chris Matthews kvetched, "Clinton lies knowing that you know he's lying. It's brutal and it subjugates the person who's being lied to. I resent deeply being constantly lied to." George Will, a frequent apologist for the lies of Reagan and now Bush, went so far as to insist that Clinton's "calculated, sustained lying has involved an extraordinarily corrupting assault on language, which is the uniquely human capacity that makes persuasion, and hence popular government, possible."

George W. Bush does not lie about sex, I suppose--merely about war and peace. Most particularly he has consistently lied about Iraq's nuclear capabilities as well as its missile-delivery capabilities. Take a look at Milbank's gingerly worded page-one October 22 Post story if you doubt me. To cite just two particularly egregious examples, Bush tried to frighten Americans by claiming that Iraq possesses a fleet of unmanned aircraft that could be used "for missions targeting the United States." Previously he insisted that a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency revealed the Iraqis to be "six months away from developing a weapon." Both of these statements are false, but they are working. Nearly three-quarters of Americans surveyed think that Saddam is currently helping Al Qaeda; 71 percent think it is likely he was personally involved in the 9/11 attacks. . . .

Reporters and editors who "protect" their readers and viewers from the truth about Bush's lies are doing the nation--and ultimately George W. Bush--no favors. Take a look at the names at that long black wall on the Mall. Consider the tragic legacy of LBJ's failed presidency. Ask yourself just who is being served when the media allow Bush to lie, repeatedly, with impunity, in order to take the nation into war.

Well, they allowed it, and here we are today. And he's still lying. And they're still allowing it. And his "Christian" followers are as devoted as ever. What a world.

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