Sunday, September 25, 2016

Just Come Out and Say It: He's Lying

Opinion |

Sometimes I pity The New York Times.
I know they’re supposedly the “newspaper of record.” The “Gray Lady.” The venerable institution to which all serious print journalists aspire, or at least used to.
But I swear, sometimes those big-city scribes are as dumb as a dog chasing parked cars. Take, for instance, their recent wrestling with the question of when to call something a lie.
In the court system, judges sometimes have to decide if a witness, particularly a child witness, is competent to testify. An important question is whether or not the child can tell the difference between the truth and a lie.
To determine this, there are certain questions that the attorney calling the child typically asks. One of those is, “If I told you I was wearing an orange polka dot shirt, would that be the truth or a lie?” This often reduces the child to the giggles if, for example, the lawyer’s shirt is solid white. Then they answer, “That would be a lie.”
In 27 years of practice, I have yet to see a child witness fail the test of how to define a lie.
And yet the mighty New York Times seems to struggle with a concept a second-grader can master. Recently, their so-called “public editor” did an entire column analyzing whether it was proper for them to refer to Donald Trump’s now-abandoned assertion that President Barack Obama was not born in the U.S. as “a lie.”
Specifically, they ran the story of said long-delayed abandonment of “birtherism” under the headline “Trump Gives Up a Lie, But Refuses to Repent.”
Good for them, I say, since “Barack Obama was not born in the United States” is, like “I am wearing an orange polka dot shirt” when I’m doing no such thing, a lie. It is objectively and demonstrably untrue.
And yet the public editor of The Times, one Liz Spayd, felt the need to discuss at length whether the word was proper. “It is not a word we will use lightly,” she said, quoting political editor Carolyn Ryan.
Unfortunately, the polite reluctance to cry “shenanigans” in the face of the most obvious shenanigans is a societal loophole that manipulative sociopaths like Donald Trump drive through like a bulldozer.
People like Donald Trump lie so shamelessly, so rapidly, and so constantly that they simply overwhelm the capacity of traditional journalists to go, “Whoa. Wait. I don’t think that’s true” before they’re off to the next falsehood.
As I’ve noted before, an analysis of 4.6 hours of Trump speeches by the online site Politico found that Trump made, on average, at least one demonstrably false statement every five minutes. Factcheck.orgmarveled that “we’ve never seen his match” when it comes to bald-faced lying.
That’s just the problem. No one has — except maybe online, where one encounters the technique of “argument” known variously as the “Gish Gallop” or “proof by verbosity,” in which someone spews so many falsehoods so quickly that it would take hours to refute each one, so people with actual lives finally just give up and walk away, at which point the “galloper” declares victory.
Actually, given Trump’s usual bombastic, bullying style and his use of the live-action equivalent of the “Gish Gallop,” I’m convinced that he or someone working for him has made a study of internet trolling and adapted it to political campaigning. More than one person, after all, has observed that Trump is “an anonymous internet comment section come to life.”
This bodes ill for Hillary Clinton in the upcoming debates.
Clinton is, after all, a traditional politician who’s spent her whole career dealing with antagonists who play by civilized rules. Even in her triumphant 11-hour slugfest against the Benghazi witch hunters, she wasn’t dealing with anyone nearly as shameless and contemptuous of decorum as Donald Trump.
And while facing the torrent of BS sure to be pouring from Trump’s mouth, she can expect no help from the moderators. Chris Wallace of Fox News has flat out stated, “I do not believe it is my job to be a truth squad. It's up to the other person to catch them on that.”
That’s exactly what people like Trump depend on. Let’s hope Clinton is ready.