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Carly Fiorina’s lies, half-truths and evasions

REUTERS/Chris Keane
Carly Fiorina speaking during the Heritage Action for America presidential candidate forum in September.

A cynical old joke goes like this…

Q: How can you tell when a politician is lying?

A: Their lips move.

After decades of spending way too much time covering politics, I can testify that politicians often move their lips without lying. Many are honest and straightforward.

The number of truth-tellers declines if we rule out those occasions when candidates fudged or evaded or half-truthed their way through an answer to an awkward question. Bill Clinton famously (and under oath before a grand jury) defended a former lie about his relationship to Monica Lewinsky (“there is nothing going on between us”) on the grounds that “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” If you strain, you can take his point, but it is the point of a liar torturing a technicality to cover his tracks.

So I don’t want to get carried away in either direction. But I do believe that if we bring a reasonable expectation of honesty or straightforwardness to the exercise of listening to politicians, the level of straight talk in the current discourse involving the Republican presidential field is approaching some sort of historic low.

The news media often abets this trend by not making a big enough deal of the lies, half-truths and evasions. Half-truths and evasions are huge categories, especially in the very important area of policy proposals. Journalists need to insist on straight answers about the gaping holes. The reasons they don’t do this as much as they should are complicated and above my pay grade. But it would help if they thought that was what the public wanted.

If Donald Trump and Ben Carson want to float tax plans that would dramatically reduce government revenue while simultaneously complaining about the deficit and the debt, they need to be grilled and grilled until they explain which hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of spending and benefits they are going to eliminate to pay for those tax cuts without adding to the deficit.

You can say that Democrats need to be more generous with specific policy details. I’m not happy with the pace of Hillary Clinton’s release of real policy positions.

Fiorina’s breathtaking performance

All that aside (but not very far aside), I’m still a little slack-jawed at the breathtaking fact-dancing performance of Carly Fiorina on last weekend’s “Meet the Press.”

Fiorina was coming off of a surge in the polls during the CNN debate — a performance that included a dramatic denunciation of Planned Parenthood, delivered with steely-eyed disgust that oozed apparent sincerity, but was far less than truthful.

As you may have heard, the anti-abortion group that made the heavily edited videotapes of doctors talking about harvesting organs from aborted fetuses edited in some very creepy-looking stock footage of just-aborted fetuses for shock value. The footage did not depict anything involving any Planned Parenthood facilities or personnel.

Because the issue of the moment was the drive to deny government funding to Planned Parenthood (for non-abortion services), Fiorina in the debate strongly implied that the video she so vividly and graphically described  (“a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking, while someone says, ‘We have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.’ “) was video of something that happened at a Planned Parenthood facility. No, it was stock footage, taken elsewhere, edited in.

When “Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd pushed back against Fiorina, saying that in fact there was no such video (at least meaning no video connected to Planned Parenthood), Fiorina insisted she had seen it (but not mentioning that what she had seen was not taken at a PP facility). She wouldn’t — still hasn’t — conceded it, although she is very adept at changing the context when the subject arises.

Todd tried to cite a Washington Post editorial that had excoriated her for the deception. (Transcript of the whole MTP exchange is here.)

But this was when her gift for lying (while maintaining credible deniability that she had lied) really cranked up a gear. This is really the beauty part that sparked this whole post.

A curveball

Instead of dealing with what the Post editorial writers had said, Fiorina threw a screwball curveball eephus pitch (yes, I know there’s no such thing). Fiorina, from the transcript:

“No, no. Well, first of all the Washington Post also claims that I am lying about being a secretary. So let’s get real. I mean, I don’t even know how to deal with that. I was a secretary part-time to put myself through college, and full-time after I graduated. The Washington Post gave me three Pinocchios for claiming that I was a secretary.

“So honestly, I don’t think The Washington Post has a lot of credibility here. This is not about being pro-life or pro-choice. It is certainly not about birth control. It is not even about women’s health. It is about the character of our nation. No one can deny this is happening because it is happening.”

This is too great. This is Marx Brothers genius. I had no idea whether she was just making stuff up at this point, so I searched the recent work of the Post’s Fact Checker (Glenn Kessler, he’s the one who rates the truth or falsity of statement with “Pinocchios”). I found the one that supposedly called Fiorina a liar about being a secretary.

It is not an examination of whether she was a secretary. It is an examination of how honest or misleading Fiorina’s frequent refrain is that she “started out as a secretary and ended up as the CEO of the largest technology company in the world.”

Kessler specifies that during summers between her college years at Stanford,  Fiorina “worked secretarial jobs through the temp agency Kelly Services (then Kelly Girls)….” And that she later (after dropping out of law school) worked as a secretary/receptionist for a real estate firm where she impressed some of the bosses who gave her more responsibility and encouraged her to think about a career in business. Writes Kessler:

“It is clear that Fiorina’s experience as receptionist and secretary at Marcus & Millichap was a defining moment.”

It’s hard to reconcile these statements from Kessler’s piece with Fiorina’s statement that Kessler “claims that I am lying about being a secretary” or “gave [her] three Pinocchios for claiming that I was a secretary.”

Kessler does give her three Pinocchios, which according to his system refers to statements that are “mostly false” but “could include statements which are technically correct … but are so taken out of context as to be very misleading.”

That’s because her oft-repeated statement that she started out as a secretary and ended up as a CEO is more or less true (depending on what “started out” means, I suppose). But as a summary of her life trajectory it is highly misleading in that it is clearly intended to suggest a rags-to-riches story, which hers is not.

Life of privilege

Fiorina was born to affluence and privilege. Her father was a lawyer, then a law professor at Stanford, Cornell and Yale, then dean of the Duke Law School. He was a deputy attorney general and ultimately a federal appeals court judge. Her mother was an artist. Her childhood included time living in New York, Connecticut, California, London, Africa and North Carolina. She went to Stanford, then to law school, but didn’t care for it and dropped out. She did indeed do secretarial work during college summers and again after she dropped out of law school and transitioned to a business career.

Her business career was a huge success then a disastrous failure. Hewlett-Packard fared badly during her tenure, a lot of regular people lost their jobs. Stockholders lost their shirts. She was fired by the board. I’m sure it’s possible to argue that it wasn’t her fault, and if her candidacy continues to thrive, that story will be told more and more often.

Kessler, whom I find generally tough but fair, is simply arguing that to summarize her life as secretary-to-CEO was a case of two facts taken so out of context as to be very misleading. I think I agree, but views can differ. Kessler, to his credit, added a section to the archived version of his article acknowledging her complaints and quoting critics who felt three Pinocchios was too severe a grade.

Kessler did not give her any Pinocchios for claiming to have worked a secretary. On the contrary, he confirmed she had worked as a secretary. If she was a more honest person, she would retract what she said on “Meet the Press,” which is pretty close to a lie.

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Comments (29)

  1. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 10/02/2015 - 09:50 am.

    Her business career was a huge success….

    I suggest you review her career at Lucent where she pocketed millions in bonuses while she did deals like the sales to Pathnet.

    Pathnet was a 1.9 million dollar total revenue company. She “sold” Pathnet between 440 million and 2.1 billion dollars of material from Lucent, vendor financed from Lucent, plus cash from Lucent to Pathnet. It was publicized as the largest sale ever and Fiorini got a huge bonus based on it.

    Pathnet did not survive, Lucent didn’t survive.

    So no, here career before HP was not a brilliant one. It was filled with disaster (mainly for others).

    You will note she never talks about Lucent.

    • Submitted by Maria Jette on 10/02/2015 - 12:55 pm.

      The curse of speed-reading…

      I didn’t get the impression that Eric was simply saying that it was a success!

      It sounds like you didn’t read the entire sentence, which was: “Her business career was a huge success then a disastrous failure.”

      • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 10/02/2015 - 01:25 pm.

        I read the entire sentence, and given the HP was the only company mentioned, it seem reasonable to think that her spell at AT&T and Lucent required some light also and that the “huge success” referred to the period of her rise to HP.

    • Submitted by Donald Larsson on 10/02/2015 - 04:00 pm.

      On the other hand

      It sounds like her “business career” has been pretty successful for herself, given with her personal take from these crashes. I will, however, give Fiorina this bit of credit–she stared down Trump’s bullying and she called out the trivial stupid question of what woman should be on the $10 bill as the tokenism that it was. Too bad she’s not more.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/05/2015 - 09:56 am.

      When speaking of private sector executives in the US…

      One must always remember that when we say: “success”, we mean success- FOR THEM. It rarely makes any sense to look for anything they did for anyone else, the economy, or society at large.

  2. Submitted by David Frenkel on 10/02/2015 - 11:51 am.

    Foreign affairs

    The GOP candidates mirror the how most Americans feel about the rest of the world….who cares.
    I think some of the GOP candidates don’t even bother to read the news. Fiorina was blasted in defense related publications for either being completely ignorant or making misleading comments about Defense issues. I was doing business with HP when Fiorina showed up and she was a disaster for the company. Her failed US Senator campaign was lost primarily on her HP failings.

  3. Submitted by Bill Willy on 10/02/2015 - 01:14 pm.

    “three Pinocchios was too severe”

    Wow… “Only in America” can you find a line like that seriously associated with a political campaign for the highest office in the land!

    And just to be clear, I love it. Somehow, it seems to “speak volumes” to the “advancement of American society” that the use of a character from a fairly tale’s growing and shrinking wooden nose can be so seamlessly incorporated, understood, and not given a second thought to by almost all of the American public.

    For some reason, I found myself thinking of someone from some other part of the world (Armenia, say, just for no-offense, off the top of the head example), reading or hearing that and wondering, “What? What means this, ‘three Pinocchios too severe’ bisness?”

    An unexpected but (oddly) genuine day-brightener somehow related to my “faith in the American system.”

  4. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 10/02/2015 - 01:41 pm.

    Lies, damn lies

    …and statistics, as Mark Twain is alleged to have said.

    Ms. Fiorina’s most obvious untruth is her continued insistence – because she “saw it with her own eyes“ – that the falsified video from the anti-abortion group is “genuine.” It isn’t, but as Eric has said, she can’t admit it. I understand. It’s really difficult for people with outsized egos to admit an error.

    Beyond that, there have been assorted others, as the story says. It’s too bad, because Fiorina is obviously a smart woman, and a smart woman who wasn’t a habitual liar might well give Hillary – if she ends up as the Democratic nominee – a run for her money. As it is, my own feeling is that Fiorina may feel that, in order to swim in the current Republican shark-infested waters, she can’t afford to appear to be an innocent Grouper, or some other fish that’s typically the meal, not the one eating the meal. She has to appear to be a shark, too, and bold statements about a hot-button issue are one way to do that.

    After all, The Donald has made a career of bloviating, and he’s the one getting all the attention. If Fiorina wants some of that spotlight on herself, she first has to get the attention of the public, and the “harvest its brain” business, or “I started as a secretary” statement (“I’m just like you folks!”) are pretty tried-and-true strategies (the outrageous statement, or the “just folks” false modesty) for candidates to use. Keep in mind that big-company CEOs don’t usually keep people on the payroll to be contrarians, and tell them things they don’t want to hear. She (and Donald, and Mike, and Jeb, and Hillary, etc.) is used to the people around her nodding their collective heads in agreement, not blurting out, “Carly, that ain’t gonna fly!”

    As an aside, what I learned from one of my college summers, spent in the spare parts division of a big-time defense contractor, was that I wanted nothing to do with the corporate world, though I had the contacts to move quickly up the corporate ladder if I’d wanted to do so. I didn’t, and found something else to do with my life.

  5. Submitted by Mike Downing on 10/02/2015 - 03:50 pm.

    What about lies, half truths and evasions from other candidates?

    What about lies, half truths and evasions from other candidates such as Hillary Clinton? Or are you not “fair & balanced”?

    • Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 10/02/2015 - 07:07 pm.

      How about . . .

      some specific examples? It’s pretty evident from the piece that Fiorina has lied and been caught at it and is still in denial about being caught in a lie. Sort of “Clintonesque” one might say but not in the Hillary Clinton sense; the other one. True, Fiorina’s not President. Yet anyway. But she certainly has potential judging from this performance. It would speak volumes about the Republican Party if she was selected as its candidate based on her “Clintonesque” qualifications in this regard.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 10/03/2015 - 11:21 am.

      Aaaaaaand here we are

      The first “what about Hillary?” post in this thread. Congratulations!

      Just to clarify an important point, “fairness” is another way of saying “accuracy.” It does not require that a negative story about a Republican be balanced by a comparable story about whichever Democrat one chooses to hate at the moment.

      In any event, this kind of deflection is a well-known, albeit overused, defense mechanism. It accomplishes nothing, except it proves how little the person who uses it has to defend.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/05/2015 - 10:05 am.

      The extension of dishonesty..

      These reflexive responses to by conservatives to conservative or republican dishonesty- that always to try to point at someone else’s dishonesty; are really just another form of… dishonesty. You would think the champions of durable “values” would understand that one person’s dishonesty does not lesson another person’s dishonesty; but elementary morality seems to frequently escape the character of our would-be character police.

      Is it any wonder that our so-called “values” champions have produced a party that has become so characterized by a parade of dysfunction and dishonesty?

  6. Submitted by joe smith on 10/02/2015 - 06:11 pm.

    In a recent poll Hillary Clinton was described by 13.1% as a liar, 1st response. 2nd place at 8.2% was untrustworthy, 4th place at 5.9% was deceitful, 4.8% bad/evil, 3.6% dislike, 2.7% corrupt and .9% selfish for a total of 39.2%. 19% had no opinion, so half of the respondents had a negative opinion of her, most claiming she is dishonest. Seems to be a problem with honesty and politicians…. I’m shocked!!

    • Submitted by Pat Berg on 10/02/2015 - 08:43 pm.

      Cites, please

      Please name the poll so that readers can get some idea of exactly who the polled respondents were.

    • Submitted by Bill Willy on 10/03/2015 - 03:04 am.

      How IS Bengauzy (or is it Benghazi or what) spelled?

      “13.1% as a liar, 1st response.”

      Because “everyone says” and, apparently, “knows,” she lied about what happened at however that place is spelled and we know that because she was “caught-out” (several times, they say) in those lies by ever-vigilant members of the McCarthy (latter day Un-American Activities?) Committee of the House of Representatives of the United State of America.

      “2nd place at 8.2% was untrustworthy,”

      Because “everyone knows” she lied about what happened there, thanks to the tireless work of those same Defenders of American Freedom.

      “4th place at 5.9% was deceitful,”

      What happened to 3rd place?

      “4.8% bad/evil,”

      Whoa!.. Did they mean like Satanic, Devil Worshiping, Super Flesh-Eating Evil, or what?

      “3.6% dislike, 2.7% corrupt and .9% selfish for a total of 39.2%. 19% had no opinion, so half of the respondents had a negative opinion of her, most claiming she is dishonest.”

      Well, duh… I’m not quite sure how 39.2 adds up to over half, but it doesn’t matter because everybody’s known that for years and years (except that 19% of underock dwellers with no opinion). Ken Starr told America all about that way back in the 90s when he was presenting his “Whitewater Investigation Wrap-up” summary at the conclusion of the $45 million (taxpayer-funded) investigation of “the Clintons” during the run-up to the Republican Impeachment of the Commander-in-Chief of the United States of America. (Good thing there wasn’t a world war or some kind of vast and endless right wing conspiracy going on at the time, huh?)

      Keep helping Speaker heir apparent, K. McCarthy, honk that clown bus horn for all it’s worth. It’s just what America needs to hear!

  7. Submitted by joe smith on 10/03/2015 - 09:02 am.

    When 19% do not have an opinion that leaves 81% with an opinion of those 39% had a negative opinion, not quite 50% of folks “with an opinion” disliked her. That was my point- I should have been more specific. Bottom line is the poll showed what folks think of her. Hillary’s claim of the vast right wing conspiracy started over whether, her husband Bill, had an affair with a 20 yr old intern, she was claiming no, along with Bill, until that “stain” on the blue dress showed up. Bill Clinton was found guilty of lying under oath, not a big deal to liberals i guess. That conspiracy wasn’t really a conspiracy but the truth.
    Suffolk/USA Today are not right wing groups, so I doubt most can claim bias with the poll. When a person sites a poll liberals don’t like it is honking a clown bus horn but get excited when the media writes a negative opinion piece about a GOP woman. I would scream misogyny but that poor word has been worn out by liberals the past 6 months, it needs some rest.

    • Submitted by Jim Boulay on 10/05/2015 - 06:44 am.

      President Clinton was NOT CONVICTED!

      More lies! President Clinton was acquitted by the senate. He agreed to a suspension of his law license for 5 years to end the Ken Starr investigation. No charges were ever brought against Hillary. He also paid a fine for a contempt of court ruling by the judge in the Paula Jones case but no criminal charges were ever filed. Look things up before you try to justify the witchhunt! It was a political hit job that continues to pay dividends on decades old LIES! If not, why do you keep bringing it and distorting it?

      • Submitted by joe smith on 10/05/2015 - 08:05 am.

        He admitted he lied and paid Paula Jones $850,000 to settle. He gave up his law license. His lying before congress was never in question, the impeachment for lying under oath failed.

  8. Submitted by Kurt Nelson on 10/04/2015 - 04:40 pm.


    can you mention the Clintons without also mentioning Whitwater, I mean, come on man, you really lose your outrage cred without it.
    Like all Republicans, Carly lies, and thinks the world won’t notice, but we do, and her particular brand of bs is galling because she gets people to believe it – simple minds, simple problems I guess.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 10/05/2015 - 09:01 am.

      Also . . .

      What about the White House Travel Office, a scandal which no one seems to know why it was a scandal? Or how about dredging up poor Vince Foster’s corpse again? And several other outrages that I can’t put my finger on, because the NewsMax server is down!

  9. Submitted by Jim Million on 10/05/2015 - 09:02 am.

    Rising in the Polls

    So the Left looks a little nervous about a Republican female candidate rising in the polls?

    Maybe she simply should admit she “mis-remembered,” as others have said.

    I’m rather ambidextrous, but still have a little trouble with Left-handed Tools.

    Enjoy the winter of 24/7 politics, everyone.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/05/2015 - 10:42 am.

      Yeah, I remember that time the left got nervous…

      When McFadden got a bump in the polls while running against Franken. That was funny.

  10. Submitted by Logan Foreman on 10/05/2015 - 10:15 am.

    Just a shade

    Better than Palin

  11. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/05/2015 - 10:26 am.

    I’ve often ended up deciding…

    I’ve thought about this many times over the decades and I often end up blaming the media.

    To begin with, while we can point at dishonesty on the left and right, it is simply a fact that the right, or conservatives have pushed deliberate misinformation and outright dishonest to a new level on the American political landscape. For instance the recent push for a voter ID in MN was riddled with outright lies about everything from the incidence of voter fraud to the number of registration cards returned. Nothing was too big or too small to lie about.

    I blame the media because this objective “style” of reporting effectively prevents journalistic honesty and encourages fraud. When someone makes a publicly verifiable false statement why cannot THAT be a headline or a news story? Instead the “lie” gets reported i.e. “Fiorina claims that Planned Parenthood traffics living baby brains” as if it could be true, and it’s someone else’s job to report the fact that it isn’t true. This is typically referred to as stenography pretending to be journalism. Then journalists will sit around and pontificate about “integrity?”

    Imagine a world where journalists simply reported honestly about the lies people tell? Imagine a headline that reads: “Fiorina Stands by Her False Claims Regarding Planned Parenthood”

    Dude, of course of you have her on your show and ASK her whether or not she’s lying, she’ll deny lying. But WHY are you asking when you already know she’s lying? What’s the point beyond eliciting more comments?

    The end result of this a field of candidates that have no credibility and worse, no integrity. And then we complain about dysfunctional government and the lack of integrity?

    The idea that it’s the democrat’s job to debunk republican misinformation fails us because: A) Whatever democrats say can be dismissed as partisan spin. and B) For my money the democrats are really really bad debunking republican misinformation most of the time. For instance instead of debunking magic economic plans democrats actually bought into it for a while, it was like: “Well, why not give magic a try? Maybe it will work?”

    Anyways, it’s the difference between having claims and counter claims and having a baseline of reality and integrity.

  12. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/05/2015 - 10:39 am.

    I’m I dreaming or…

    Is someone here really trying to respond to Fiorina’s lies by talking about Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky?

    Well, If we’re going to play that game let’s go back to Ronald Reagan thinking he told the truth about not selling weapons to Iran until the “facts” revealed to him (and everyone else) that he had? Or we could back to Nixon and Watergate?

    But here’s the thing: who in this world is telling us we should vote for Hillary ( or better yet Bernie) because Nixon Reagan was a liar? On the other we appear to have an argument here that Fiorina deserves our vote because Bill Clinton is a liar. And at the risk of being annoying I point out again the fact that the: “Clinton lied vote for Fiorina” argument hails from the moral character guys wrapped in a flag and clutching their Bibles.

    Is this what happens when moral bankruptcy become a virtue?

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 10/05/2015 - 11:01 am.

      You’re not dreaming

      Although I would question why you don’t recognize this as standard Republican operating procedure. I’m not sure why it this sort of thing is relied on so much, unless it follows the dictum of not speaking ill of a fellow Republican (exception: feel free to castigate those whom you would label a RINO). It’s done when one can’t blame negative news solely on the liberal media.

      I don’t know if it’s moral bankruptcy (the utter poverty of the “both sides do it” defense), or an admission that, policy-wise, they have nothing new to offer. Also, one should never underestimate the depths of Republican bitterness regarding any popular Democratic politician. Bill Clinton will never, ever be forgiven for leaving office with higher popularity ratings than Ronald Reagan. After they went through all that trouble of impeaching him, that’s the thanks they get!

  13. Submitted by James Norquist on 10/06/2015 - 04:29 pm.

    Fiorina’s lies

    Fiorina never did acknowledge that her comments about Planned Parenthood are lies.

    To me, this renders her unqualified to be President.

    There is a difference about lying about your career–many people fudge their resume, and people can disagree about whether she had a positive or negative effect on Hewlett Packard.

    But lying about a video that does not exist tells me that she will say anything to get elected, including pandering to certain low-information anti-abortion voters.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/07/2015 - 09:36 am.


      I’m not sure lying about a resume is “OK”, even if a lot of people do it. Doesn’t that just speak to the over-all deterioration of integrity in the corporate universe? Doesn’t THAT just point to yet another disqualification for corporate executives?

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