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So what actually constitutes a lie these days?

REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
By my lights, at least what Sessions said to Minnesota Sen. Al Franken was false, and probably deserves to be called a lie.

In my early days, as a hard news reporter operating within the norms of so-called journalistic “objectivity,” we pretty much never called anything a “lie.” You could point out that something was untrue, but how could you know it was a deliberate falsehood worthy of the “L” word? Furthermore, once an untruth was pointed out, public figures would usually stop repeating it, and the good ones would actually admit that they had said something that wasn’t quite right and maybe apologize.

That has changed, and the biggest source of recent change was Trumpism. Candidate Trump lied blatantly and frequently and seldom retracted or apologized.

He is perhaps trying to figure how much of the same mendacity he can get away with as president. But the norms by which journalism deals with lies and lesser levels of falsehoods have changed in reaction to this central feature of Trumpism.

So, nowadays, what constitutes a lie? A case study:

It’s good that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has decided to remove himself from any role in investigating connections between the Trump campaign and Russia. It would be even better if Sessions agreed that neither he nor anyone under his supervision should be involved in such an investigation.

That would require an outside investigator from completely outside of Trump campaign circles or Republican circles, someone with a non-partisan profile, and unquestioned integrity, and someone with full power to compel sworn testimony and do whatever was necessary – not just to find out whether Sessions was part of some improper Trump-Russia scheme, but to investigate whether anyone connected with Trump or his campaign was colluding with Russia in any way connected to the campaign.

The reasons for that are obvious. But for the moment, in the interest of keeping things on the straight and narrow, I’m troubled by the willingness of many figures in this controversy to adopt a mushy vocabulary about Sessions’ falsifying during his confirmation process. So let’s focus on that for a second.

A lot of stories I’m seeing suggest that Sessions’ statements about this matter may have been “misleading.” They were not misleading. By my lights, at least what Sessions said to Minnesota Sen. Al Franken was false, and probably deserves to be called a lie. To me, it’s not really a close call. You decide:

The short version: Under oath, Sessions said:  “I did not have communications with the Russians.”

He now admits he did have meetings with the Russian ambassador. How is his sworn statement — “I did not have communications with the Russians”— not a lie but only “misleading?”

The medium-long version: So you can decide for yourself, the exchange went like this:

Franken: "CNN just published a story alleging that the intelligence community provided documents to the president-elect last week that included information that quote, ‘Russian operatives claimed to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump.’ These documents also allegedly say quote, ‘There was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump's surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government.’

"Now, again, I'm telling you this as it's coming out, so you know. But if it's true, it's obviously extremely serious and if there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?"

Sessions: "Senator Franken, I'm not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I didn't have — did not have communications with the Russians, and I'm unable to comment on it."

Does that change anything from the short version? What? Sessions went out of his way, in his answer, to help Franken out by acknowledging that he could reasonably be classified as a Trump surrogate, which is undeniable anyway, considering his role in the campaign. And I don’t believe he would have much luck arguing that a meeting with the Russian ambassador to the United States doesn’t constitute “having communication with the Russians.”

And it is undeniable that Sessions was a Trump surrogate during the time frame of his meetings with the Russian ambassador. I don’t know in what La-La Land his statement: “I did not have communications with the Russians,” is not a falsehood and a serious one considering the larger Russian-Trumpist connection.

In fact, Sessions obviously committed a much bigger and more serious falsehood because his meetings with the Russian ambassador occurred at a time when he was a Trump campaign surrogate. That precludes the possible excuse that, although he had had meetings with the Russians, they were so far in the past as to be irrelevant to Franken’s question, which at bottom is about the possibility that the Trumpeters were in collusion with the Russians to bring about what both sides wanted and got: A Trump presidency.

The last, most attenuated version of Sessions-didn’t-lie goes like this: When Sessions said he didn’t “communicate with” Russians, he meant that he did communicate with Russians, but of course he did. No scandal there. He’s a U.S. Senator with a role to play in geopolitics. And he had such communications during a period when he was reasonably viewed as a surrogate for the Trump campaign. Perhaps what Sessions meant when he gave his excuses was that he had never discussed anything with the Russians that was relevant to anything in the Trump universe. And he could hope that some people would take this assurance seriously. But the trouble is, they would have to take his, or the Russian ambassador’s word for it, which is a heavy lift.

I don’t much buy it. Sessions could easily have said, and should have said to Franken, if he wasn’t interested in lying:

Sen. Franken, I guess I’m what some people would have considered a Trump surrogate during the campaign. And I did have some meetings with the Russian ambassador last year, during the campaign. But we didn’t discuss anything relating to the campaign, and I was at those meetings not in my capacity as a Trump surrogate, but in my capacity as a senator, as I have met with many foreign officials during my Senate years.

In retrospect, given my relationship to the Trump campaign, perhaps I shouldn’t have gone to that meeting. And right this minute I wish I hadn’t. But I’ll have to ask you to take my word for it that nothing that occurred in those meetings had anything to do with the campaign or my capacity as a Trump surrogate.

And furthermore, now that I’m President-elect Trump’s nominee for attorney general, I will pledge to the Senate and the American people today that, if I am confirmed, I will recuse myself from any activity relating to Russia and refer such matters to someone with no connection to the Trump campaign.

Maybe that would have been a lie, too, depending on what actually happened at those 2016 meetings between a Russian official and a Trump surrogate. And maybe we’ll never find out. All we know now is that he didn’t say that to Franken. And to excuse his falsehood as merely “misleading” is a tad, um “misleading.”

Afterthought: After I wrote this, I saw a lot of pieces and even satire on television making the same points about Sessions performance on this matter. FactCheck.org, which I respect greatly, did a workup in which they decided to take no position on whether sessions had “lied.” They talked to a former prosecutor, now a law professor and an expert on the actual crime of perjury. That fellow, Randall Eliason, said it would be awfully difficult to actually win a criminal conviction against Sessions for perjury unless there was additional evidence showing that Sessions understood that he was knowingly and intentionally lying when he gave his answer to Franken. That’s a high bar, and I’m not advocating that Sessions should face criminal prosecution. To me, the self-inflicted damage to his reputation is punishment enough. Here’s the FactCheck workup

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Comments (75)

Calling a Spade a Spade

In the old days, I think it was justified to refrain from using the "L" word in reporting. There were all kinds of reasons why what was being said might not be a conscious untruth. But, times have changed. Some politicians are consciously not telling the truth. I'd suggest that the press must use the word "lie" when it is clear that it is a lie. The public just won't get it that lying is being used unless it is called what it really is and not something like an "alternative reality."

We can't get inside someone's head

But we can judge whether someone could reasonably be expected to know when he made the statement that the statement was false. That should be enough to call it a lie.

What's a lie vs an error in facts?

Was Susan Rice lying when she went on numerous Sunday morning shows stating that a "video" was the reason for the Benghazi attacks? Or was that simply a factual error?

Did she have reason

to doubt that the statement was true?

Deja Vu

Every time I read “I did not have communications with the Russians,” all I hear in my head is "I did not have sexual relations with that woman."

There's a difference

between a sexual relationship between two consenting adults (both American citizens) and communications between American and Russian government officials.

Logical fallacy

In trying to argue for or against a point, simply saying, "Well, so-and-so did it, too," is not logically valid reasoning. It may be true that Democrats, Green Party members, Libertarians, Social Democrats have ALL told some lies in the past. That has no bearing on the discussion at hand, which is that Mr. Sessions lied. Accept it and act accordingly.

Deja Vu Indeed!

Michael: That's exactly what I've been hearing in my head!!! And in my way of thinking, this current
administration's possible "untruths" shall we say? is MUCH worse than whether or not someone was covering up an affair (which while very wrong, didn't stand to jeopardize national security, am I right?)
What a train wreck this present administration is proving to be - to my way of thinking, anyway.

Oh well, it certainly gives SNL a lot of ammunition every week, doesn't it?

It's a lie

Of course Sessions lied. He needs to resign because, as Attorney General, he has a duty to uphold and enforce the law. Including the law of perjury. Under our system of justice, it is the Grand Jury, an independent Grand Jury, not the Department of Justice which decides whether a violation of the law has occurred. No one expect Jeff Sessions to present the matter to a Grand Jury which is why Jeff Sessions has a conflict of interest. He must resign and allow the Constitutional process of the law proceed unimpeded by outside influence. Sessions's refusal to resign as Attorney General will be a stumbling block for the office itself and impair his credibility and ability to fulfill the high duties of that office. He's also undermined Trump's ability to put behind him something that's beginning to look like a Watergate-type of coverup.

What is the Age of Trump?

The Age of Trump has not brought us more lies – it just let the media talk about that much more in reference to a specific person they dislike, to say the least. Trump’s lies are petty and inconsequential but they are picked apart by the media with great pleasure. Obama’s lies, on the other hand, brought us many problems but not many people want to remember that. Clinton’s lies were equally outrageous (landing under fire, not wanting to use two devices) but, again, media preferred to largely ignore them.

Having said that, I still do not like Sessions’ answer and I think Mr. Black’s alternative would have been much better. On the other hand, I do not see how this conversation (whatever they talked about) could have influenced elections or why it is so much worse than Obama’s promising Putin a better deal after elections.

Somehow

Stating that you have not talked with Russians when you have been shown publicly stating that you did is neither petty nor inconsequential.

Promises, promises

Unless Sessions promised Russian something specific, it is petty and inconsequential… Of course, I remember that Lynch-Clinton meeting was dismissed as such… except at that time there was a very specific case to which both had connections… And didn’t Obama promise something to Putin when he thought that no one heard him?

The Lynch-Clinton

"meeting" was a chance encounter, not a scheduled meeting.
And Bill Clinton was a private citizen at the time.

Are you serious?

Do you seriously believe it was a chance that they met in Arizona of all places? And sure, Clinton was a private citizen at that time – he just also happened to be a husband of a presidential candidate who was under investigation by the DOJ…. By the way, Flynn was also a private citizen when he met with the Russians…

Hilary Clinton

was never investigated by the DOJ, although they did look at some of her campaign staff.

FBI is a part of DOJ.

FBI is a part of DOJ.

My statement

still holds.
Please document that she herself was the subject of an investigation by any federal agency.

I am lost here

I am stunned. What was the FBI investigating if not Clinton’s use of unsecure server?

Twisty turny

Keep trying and keep failing:
Bill C. did his time and paid his penalties, Done is done, unless you are saying lets re-run 17-18 years ago! Can we expect the same enthusiasm from a republican congress on a republican appointee, as we saw for over 25 years in smearing, falsifying, fake conspiracies. slandering the Clinton's? Didn't Mr. "T" throw tons fop that crap out for balking during the election process? Including Obama? (Aren't you always after the truth?)
Yes we are serious, very serious! The T guy along with most of his cabinet was correctly described as a basket of deplorables, yes, the truth she hurts!

I don’t care what Bill

I don’t care what Bill Clinton did 20 years ago (actually, I didn’t care much at that time either – it was between him and his wife) but now he was a husband of a presidential candidate which is why I talked about his meeting with Lynch.

Trump might have thrown a ton of garbage about Clinton around but Clinton and the media threw out a much larger amount of garbage about Trump. As for what the truth is, I've heard it many times that “one guy’s terrorist is another guy’s freedom fighter.” Why do you think you may be the judge of who is deplorable and who is not?

Nobody care if Sessions

Nobody care if Sessions talked to the Russians!

It's that he voluntarily and unnecessarily lied about it to Congress. That's a felony crime. It's exactly like the coverup by Nixon's White House crew, and let's remember that it was the coverup that caused Nixon to resign before being impeached.

It's the nervousness, too, which indicates that there's something in the conversations with Russians that the Trump folks don't want us to know. They keep lying about it all, like very guilty nine-year-old boys.

Of course Democrats care that

Of course Democrats care that Sessions talked to Russians because it helps them in their search for proof that Russians helped elect Trump… And you prove my point by talking about nervousness and what it indicates… As for Nixon, remember what he did was illegal on its own…

..why it is so much worse

..why it is so much worse than Obama’s promising Putin a better deal after elections...

Sorry, there is only one President at a time--that's the way it works.

And, this raises the issue quid-pro-quo---easing of sanctions in return for obvious and not so obvious assistance. Private assurances for private benefits.

Seems like there were a lot of their people in contact with the Russians during the election, and the issue had already become clear before his hearing.

His "forgetting" the reason even why the question was asked is a pretty incredible . Written and oral responses, for that matter

Compare

Obama promised to be more accommodating to Putin’s demands (not even in return for anything) is better than Session’s meeting with Russian ambassador and not promising anything (because we don’t have the information that he did)? As for Russians, is having contacts with them a crime? Kerry was doing it all the time…

I know it may seem like

I know it may seem like hair-splitting to you but the President and their appointees can do that, but the presidential candidate cannot. It's actually a part of the Executive branch duties.

And you know this issue is not about exchanging pleasantries about the weather--Trump's Russian ties had been a front-page issues for months--especially after the Trump team affected their only wanted change in the GOP convention platform--lightening the burden on Russia for their invasion of Ukraine. The quid-pro-quo issue arises because the Russian hacking in the election (as endorsed by Trump, himself) was all done in favor of Trump's election.

An interesting concept

Are you saying that a president may, behind people’s backs, promise favors to an adversarial power because it is his duty? In this case, we don’t need to worry about what Trump did before election because he is the President now and can give Putin whatever he wants, right?

As for hacking, apparently, it was very easy so it was not a very complicated operation by KGB or Putin to make Trump the President. It more likely looks like a crime of opportunity: if Dems set themselves up, why not screw Clinton up, just for fun. Now imagine if this information from DNC and Podesta were not hacked but given to media by “sources” – would it be OK to publish it? But “sources” giving info without the subject’s approval is as much theft as hacking. Just think about Trump’s bus conversation about women… So what was so bad about what Russia did if media does it all the time? Is it not OK for another country to do what media does? This is not what we usually consider to be “foreign interference.”

I posted a comment to Eric Black’s post about the Atlantic’s piece exploring Trump-Putin connection and the election influence. You may want to check it out - I mentioned a few more things there that I don’t want to repeat here.

You are making stuff up like Trump!

Presidents negotiate with foreign countries, (its part of their job), president elects or people running for president do not have the legal authority, in fact it is illegal! (Logan act) no, not, Wolverine Logan!
https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL33265.pdf

That is exactly what I said:

That is exactly what I said: Trump is the president now so he may negotiate with Russians all he wants. Why even talk about it? Even if he promised them Alaska at that time, he can give it to them now, right?

Isn't the point:

Of this article, that (prior to) become president it appears that Trump via his staff/surrogates had potential negotiations, and now may want to follow up on those negotiations! i.e. (given this situation, you need to be clear on your time windows, if you have the conversation before you have the political position it is an issue, Just because Trump now has the political position, does not absolve him of potential previous infractions, he would/should still be tried for violation of the Logan act. He does not get a: Get out of Jail Free card.
PS: Treaties typically have to be approved by the Senate, hard to keep things in the dark.

"The Age of Trump has not brought us more lies "

It is proven, beyond any doubt, by all fact checking organizations that Trump fabricates at nearly 3 times the rate: 70% vs. 25% of your Obama's, Ryan's, McConnell s, Peloisi's, etc...

So, yes Trump has brought us more lies.

And he has refused to admit or correct at an equally disproportionate rate.

He is the Kim Jong Il of American Presidents. How long before he Tweets that he hit 4 straight holes in ones during a golf game?

Truth is the basis for negotiation and compromise and a "truth free" President will not make much progress.

It is not proven because

It is not proven because those who do the checking are not the objective and fair judges. On the other hand, I’ll take a “there were more people at my inauguration” lie over “you can keep your doctor” and “I landed under fire” ones any day. Neither would I be bothered by “4 straight holes in ones” lie because, you guess it, I don’t care how he plays golf. Would a person who exaggerates the size of the fish that got away be considered a liar unfit to be a president?

Then

Their are no objective and fair judges. Look at the founders and missions of Politifact and FactCheck and if they cannot be counted to offer some measure of objectivity , who can? Fox News? If we all just go to the place where we know we will find all happy news that we agree with, then we are done as a society hopeful to make compromising gains. If the universal postilion is: "I am right and you are wrong" on every item of debate, regardless of facts, welcome comrade to the new order.

And,if you were to check, you would find that "You can keep your Dr." was rated "mostly true" at the time it was made and 3 years later was moved to the untruth category.

Lying, big or small, at 3 times the rate of any previous political figure is a problem...

Petty and Inconsequential?

Throwing out accusations that President Obama ordered the wiretapping of Trump Tower--that's petty? It is distracting from an important investigation into Russian contacts with the Trump campaign. Inconsequential?

"Massive voter fraud" allegations could lead to further punitive restrictions on the franchise. Petty? Inconsequential?

Do note that, whatever lies Senator Clinton may have told, she is not President, and the odds are strong that she never will be.

What is more important

Yes, “massive voter fraud” is petty and inconsequential. Wiretapping, if it is a lie, is, too… and silly as well. But the media made them big – I do not see how they will affect the future even though I may be wrong. Both do not have long living consequences, in my mind, while lies about keeping a doctor and internet causing Libya’s events do…

"The Media Made Them Big"

Does anyone else hear Gloria Swanson right now? "I AM big! It's the pictures that got small!"

When the President of the United States makes a pronouncement, it is a big deal. I have no doubt that it's tempting, if not prudent to dismiss much of it as the ravings of a mad man. Even so, the norms of the American polity are such that the utterances of the President cannot be ignored.

"Massive voter fraud" will be the justification for continued suppression of the suffrage. As far as where wiretapping will lead us--who knows? Is it one of those issues to keep the base riled up? Our own version of Two Minutes Hate?

Would you care if Trump

Would you care if Trump “tweets that he hit 4 straight holes in ones during a golf game?” as Mr. Blaise suggested? Would the media have to jump on it and conduct multiple interviews with his golf buddies and caddies? And I do not see any evidence of “suppression of the suffrage” so far. Can we just wait before jumping to judgments and conclusions?

No Evidence So Far

Early days. As his acolytes say, give him time.

Hitting four straight holes-in-one does not relate to governance, although there are eerie Kim Jong-il overtones there.

The age of Trump

Chronological: 70.
Intellectual: 12.
Emotional: 3.

No disrespect intended, but this article is off point.

It is crucial to understand, and to start operating from the understanding, that the present “partisanship” is a contest not between competing democratic platforms, but between democracy (at least as aspiration) and authoritarianism.

In such a contest, authoritarianism has many structural advantages, one of which is that democracy is not only about a society’s political structure, but also about how political decisions are made. To that end, democracy incorporates norms of discourse. These norms serve the political structure: the accountability of leaders to the people, the right of all to participate in the discourse on equal footing, and collective, objective reasoning toward a society’s shared goals. In this way, honesty in political speech is an essential democratic norm. That is, when democrats cease to “fight fair,” they cease to be democrats (cf., IOKIYAR).

Authoritarians don’t face this conundrum. Authoritarianism is a political structure, but another, critical feature of authoritarianism is that it has no norms of discourse. It is about the exercise of power to achieve goals, and to an authoritarian the only measure of speech (or any other political act) is its efficacy. In a given moment, honesty may serve a pragmatic purpose to an authoritarian, but it has no moral content. Meticulously preparing to critique Sessions by examining the distinctions between “misleading statements” and lies, while normalizing current Republicanism as just part of the pitch and yaw of democracy, is like parsing the cough while the tumor metastasizes. But we won't go down without at least using a lot of metaphors.

The limits of discourse

are established by authoritarians. Which is to say you are spot on.

Agreed

Like fighting a battle against guns with sticks and stones. one has rules of engagement one does not, and why do we wonder who will win!

finally the "L" word

Some say it is a great act of courage to finally use the "L" word at this point in history.

However - It took a lot of "politics as usual" to refuse to use the "L" word the last 8 years and especially concerning the Clinton campaign.

It is similar to being a "deficit hawk" only when the GOP is in charge and a big deficit and spending guy when the Dems are in charge.

Shouldn't this have been:

" It is similar to being a "deficit hawk" only when the" Dem's are "in charge and a big deficit and spending guy when the" GOP are "in charge? "

Or did I miss something?

No Courage at All

It takes no political courage at all to go on whining about how nice the media is to liberals. A response that is nothing more than a "what about that other guy?" is not courageous, it is a sign that the speaker has nothing.

Or is "political courage" a synonym for deflection?

A Special Prosecutor

is what we need in this matter. Even Lindsey Graham has called for one.

No lies by Republicans? Please.

The room of assembled politicians and journalists falls silent when President Trump asserts,, for the umpteenth time, the totally fictitious claim that there were between three and five million illegal votes cast in the November 2016 election (all cast for Clinton, of course--not even one vote for anyone else). He has been told time and time again that there is no factual basis for that, and the room is embarrassed for him, that he seems incapable of distinguishing the truth from his wish that he had won the popular vote.

President Trump again silences the room when he declares that the state of Massachusetts sent busloads of Massachusetts voters up to New Hampshire to vote for Hillary Clinton in November, explaining his loss of that state. The claim has been independently checked, and is baseless. Embarrassment for our President, all around. He's hung up on the fact that he won, but not "big."

These are just two of the lies that our current president keeps repeating. No one believes him on those claims or much else that he says nowadays. That's a painful truth that lies behind our looking carefully at Sessions' unforced error before the Senate committee: These Trump folks lie. A lot. At the drop of a hat.

Mr. Sessions is an attorney, and has been both a prosecutor for the government and a U.S. Senator. He was before a non-attorney (who was laughed at for not being an attorney when questioning Trump's cabinet nominees) who happened to draw the over-confident Sessions into that unforced error.

In any case, we're losing the larger picture here: Why does the Trump administration have so many ties to the Russian officialdom? (There are lots, starting with Manafort and going through Bannon and Flynn to Sessions to Trump's son-in-law/advisor.) Why does everybody but Trump seem upset that Russia--according to several dozens of our intelligence agencies--tried to affect, and did affect, our democratic electoral system last year?

Does it have to do with the possibility that President Trump himself has so many financial debts to Russians (oligarchs, the multi-millionaire crowd his sons bragged about in 2008 as investing in Trump's businesses, but curiously stopped mentioning in 2013) that our President himself can be pressured to take, or not take, actions affecting Russia or Russian businessmen? Is this huge investment in Trump's businesses by Russians the reason he refuses to release his tax returns, where we might see those investments and Russians' hold on him?

And, do our intelligence agencies know about this? Is this why they're investigating? Is this why Trump is now--amazingly, and again causing embarrassed silence in the room--accusing the Obama administration of bugging his phones?

Living in Interesting Times

We are living through a presidential era like none we've lived through before, characterized by a pandemic of lies by members of the administration, near-total ignorance of how to govern -- born of contempt for government by people who don't practice logic, or thought of any kind -- and malice against us, most of the people.
Only malice explains the "republican" leaders' determination to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Dodd Frank, and Roe v Wade.
Malice and cowardice explain so many members of Congress hiding from their constituents -- locking their office doors, refusing to take phone calls or hold town halls! What a great example of public servants!
Rather, it demonstrates that they don't consider themselves servants of the public, but of the big donors to their campaigns.
You feel like applauding the few exceptions, until you remember that's what they're SUPPOSED to be doing!

I'll add to the list of their shortcomings an inability to read the unmistakeable signs that their constituents have had it with their attitudes and behavior.

If history ....

would have this site present during the Nixon/Watergate era we could actually witness the discourse between the authoritarians and the advocates of democracy in the comments section as we now can read during this current era. However I think that possibly we would see the shift away from authoritarian advocacy to accepting the more throrough inclusionary nature of democracy happening at much greater of speed in the Era of Nixon as facts were generated then we are now witnessing in commentary responses. The entrenchment of that point of view and the ignoring of facts sadly enough seems deeper. Facts are facts and with the daily revelations of more factual evidence of impropriety the more pure power is being exercised In an attempt to depress the facts. There is nothing to celebrate here. However there is a lot to mourn.

My 2¢

Having read all the comments so far, Ms. Sullivan and Mr. Holtman make the most sense to me. In the meantime, while we all contemplate the spinning, shiny object of the Trump presidency, purportedly representing the Republican Party, but more likely representing little more than the Party of Trump, the current iteration of the actual Republican Party is busily trying to dismantle the federal government, while its acolytes at the state level do the same thing in state legislatures, a majority of which are controlled by the GOP.

When someone mentions the "big picture" in discussing Mr. Trump's latest narcissistic episode, my own inclination is to suggest that, while yes, habitual lying seems to be part and parcel of the Trump team's modus operandi, the "bigger picture" seems to be the Republican Congress doing all it can to follow Steve Bannon's wish to destroy the "administrative state" (i.e., the rule of law), and, at the state level, Republican-controlled legislatures doing much the same thing in trying to roll back what was assumed to be settled law. Mr. Trump, Mr. Sessions, Mr. Spicer (though, to be fair, I'd guess he doesn't always have much choice) have all demonstrated that, at least in their own minds, "truth" is a concept so flexible as to be shapeless. In Trump's case, the Medieval ruler mind set—the ruler is never to be challenged, an attitude common among the very wealthy and very privileged—that he brought to the office is playing itself out in public.

Well... here's the thing

Trust in the mainstream/corporate/whateveryouwantocallit media has been fading for decades and the media that refused to use the "L" word has been progressively losing it's credibility. I hate to say but the refusal or reluctance to use plain language that actually describes events is one reason for that loss of credibility. The reliance on euphemisms undermines credibility because it looks like journalists are afraid to speak truth to power, and it looks like they're making excuses for dishonest behavior. Normal people read stuff and they wonder why writers don't just call stuff what it is? This is how John Stewart or Rush Limbaugh ends up being more trusted and "credible" than the network news.

The idea that journalist using the word: "lie" instead of "untruth" would or could somehow wrench the universe off it's hinges is simply grandiose. And I hate to say it but few journalists or editors are talented enough philosophers to sort the ontological or epistemological nature of language and it's socio-political complexities. The idea that editorial decisions are based upon such considerations is kind of silly and or another layer of grandiose thinking.

The words: "lie", "liar", and "lying" are not LEGAL terms. Nor do they point to epistemological paradoxes. These words are common vernacular, not legal, academic, or even philosophical jargon. You don't have to know the mind of a speaker in order to report something using common vernacular or language. Journalist report stuff, they don't file charges, the difference between news stories or editorials and prosecutions is obvious. The idea that a journalist is or should be bound by legal rules of evidence is incoherent. Sure we want reliable reporting but given the fact that history is riddled with huge journalistic fails it's obvious that hand wringing about the word "L" word in no way guarantees reliable news coverage.

Nor are Journalists using the "L" word particularly vulnerable to prosecution or lawsuit's in the US. We have a First Amendment and additional Shield Laws that grant a freedom of speech to everyone and special protections for journalists. As a practical matter, few public figures would even consider any legal action against a reporter using the "L" word because any trial would effectively put the alleged liar in a position of having to prove in a court of law they didn't lie. Imagine the Bush and Cheney trying to prove they didn't lie to congress and the people in a court of law.

Obviously responsible people don't want to hurl unfounded accusations around but the idea that we have to apply legal rules of evidence in order to be responsible reporters is fatuous.

Here's the real reason journalist came to taught or "indoctrinated" into not using certain terminology: The "objective" style Eric refers to emerged as the dominant reporting style in the 50's from television broadcast news. Now part of that style adoption was based on a notion that viewers lent more credibility (hence more eyeballs) to reporters that appeared "objective", so it was good for ratings. Once the un-bias aesthetic became established on TV, other media formats adopted it as well.

Whether or not objective reporting actually IS perceived as more credible is debatable but in any case there are two inescapable facts about the "objective" style:

1) It in no way shape or form guarantees more reliable reporting. It's a style,nothing more. I can report a claim that there's a spaghetti monster living on the moon in an "objective" style or an "polemic" style, but there is no spaghetti monster living on the moon.

2) Objective reporting is never truly Objective. The practical effect of the objective reporting style is to blunt criticisms and suppress critical discourse.

The objective style of reporting was actually a product of media consolidation, a process that continues to this day. Media ownership was always an elite affair but with the advent of television media ownership started consolidating into fewer and fewer and more an more elite hands. We went from having hundreds of papers owned by somewhat wealthy families to what? 5-6 major media outlets all owned by billionaires? Here's the thing, a media that challenges an elite status quo to aggressively is not the kind of media elite owners want to promote. So what really happened to the "L" word? It disappeared behind cloud of "objectivity" not because euphemisms are better but because language that challenges power more directly challenges elite interest and control. So we have "free" press, but we also get a reporting style that facilitates self censorship within the press. THAT'S what the demand for "objective" reporting is really all about- it's institutionalized self censorship.

Is it any wonder people look at a media that censors itself and decides they're not trustworthy or reliable?

In the meantime if we'd acknowledged that we were being lied to decades ago and had that discussion out in the open maybe our political system wouldn't have gotten so corrupted. It's nice to the shackles of "objectivity" loosening a little but it's long long long past due.

The last time

that we were lied to as blatantly as we are now,
the sitting president was forced from office.

Yes and No

Nixon wasn't impeached for simply lying about stuff, for all his bizarre behavior and dishonesty; as far as we know Trump hasn't yet got anything like the Watergate break-in under his belt. Since Nixon we've had worse criminal regimes that went un-impeached. Reagan's Contra's and other sundry surrogate's committed war crimes, murders, and other crimes against humanity for years, death toll over 100k. Not to mention all the perjury and other domestic crimes committed on Reagan's behalf by his underlings. Bush and Cheney took us into a war with manufactured evidence killing hundreds of thousands, not to mention torture, illegal surveillance and detentions. I don't think the mainstream media ever called Reagan or Bush liars. Trump is bizarre, but he hasn't killed hundreds of thousands of people... yet.

If there's a conspiracy involving Trump and the 2016 election, that could be comparable to Watergate, but it wouldn't be the first election scandal. The SCOTUS intervention on behalf of Bush in 2001 was just as bad, as were the various and sundry voter suppression programs past and present. Then of course we have Bush senior's October Surprise charge that he colluded with the Iranian's to hold on to the Hostages until after the 1980 election. You raise issues about Clinton if you want, but Clinton was impeached.

The key word is -yet-

Depriving tens of millions of people of health care will eventually result in deaths in significant numbers. I haven't seen any specific estimates yet, but it's a question of whether the range is in the hundreds of thousands or the millions.

Agreed but...

Republicans and democrats killed Americans for decades that way, I don't think we're going to start impeaching them for doing it now.

I think the real question is:

If and when Trump's presidency becomes a criminal regime, will congressional republicans like those of Nixon's era, impeach Trump, or has the party become so corrupted and devoid of integrity that they will sanction Trumps criminality rather than denounce it? Therein lies the survival or demise of our republic.

Integrity vs. Pragmatism

President Trump is singularly uninterested in policy. I expect that he will sign virtually every bill Congress sends to him. With that kind of regime, why would the Republicans stand up to him? Speaker Ryan will get his way, he can make some occasional tut-tutting noises about the White House, and all will be well for him.

Won't stop

The more we rely on define our existence and society through elections the more we will be driven by lies. Lying is simple the most effective and efficient way to win a popularity contest among a large population of people which is why being able to do it effectively is the key feature for all politicians. The complexity and size of the issues at hand make truely being pinned down almost impossible and the number of proxies between the source and the public too easy to blame.

In a large complex democracy what defines a lie is simply anything said by someone with whom you disagree.

Sorry

This is a garbage definition of lying. A lie is a deliberate falsehood, not merely a statement you disagree with. The ability to prove a liar is lying is a separate issue and does not define a lie as such. You can lie to your spouse for instance, and that spouse may not be able to "prove" you're lying, but it matters not, if they decide you're lying you're toast.

Lying in the political arena is no different than lying elsewhere. It's always a matter of credibility and credibility takes years or decades to establish and ten seconds to demolish. Dishonesty and credibility for large democracies isn't any different than any other environment. If large democracies were incapable of credible governance, they simply wouldn't exist and our republic would have collapsed with the Louisiana Purchase.

When Trump claims Obama wiretapped his home, it's not a lie because I disagree with Trump, it's a lie because it's a manufactured accusation that Trump is deliberately making without any reliable evidence. He can claim that he believes it, but stupidity doesn't convert a lie into a truth, and such claims simply raise deeper questions, i.e. "why do you 'believe' such a ridiculous claim?". Promoting someone else's lie without regard for the truth is simply a lie by extension so you don't get off the hook by claiming you were fooled by some other obvious Liar. That was actually part of Hillary Clinton's problem, her excuse for so many bad decisions was that she'd "believed" so many bogus claims. Right or wrong she couldn't get off the hook that way.

Not my prefered definition

It isn't my prefered definition but it is the functional one within politics. You even define it as such in your opening example of lining to your spouse. It only matters what the other person believes. Politics is simply like religion, based on small kernels of truth surrounded by years of obfuscation and lies that have simply become to define the realities of many people. The fact that large democracies are based in the same non credible framework doesn't mean they must collapse just that , like religion, they are in balance a terrible and destructive way to organize a society. Many terrible things last a long time because group-think makes people believe in irrational things. Once a culture builds its identity around something it is hard to change it no matter how obviously stupid the idea might be. Whether that be a faith in god or democracy.

I think we've tangled on this before Mr. Berg

Your comment looks vaguely familiar, I think we've had this discussion before. If memory serves I think I've accused you of simply not believing in democracy, it's looks like that's basically what you're saying here. You seem to be saying that our liberal democracy is a terrible thing that more less exists despite itself.

This is (and correct me if I'm wrong) a basic perspective of Libertarianism, and "Randianism". Fair enough but the problem is it's actually contradicted by history. The problem is the libertarian perspective contends that we live with an oppressive regime that's drifting deeper and deeper into the waters of totalitarianism with every passing day, and has been doing so for what? 100 years? The historical fact is that our rights and liberties have actually been expanding both in scope and in access rather than contracting. The idea that a nation been expanding suffrage, protections, and civil rights is actually restricting these things (relative to conditions around 1900) is simply incoherent. No one is saying it's perfect, but obviously democracy is possible, and it's has been improving the lives and standard of living of its citizens compared to actual repressive regimes like the Soviet Union, North Korea, Chile under Pinochet, etc.

Well..

I can't speak for Libertarian or "Randian" ideals because I don't identify with any particular belief system. Of course I never stated I did or that "our liberal democracy is a terrible thing that more less exists despite itself". Hard to have a conversation if your primary method is to force me into an identity which fits your dogmatic belief system and use hyperbolic translations of my statements.

OK I stand corrected...

So you don't self identify as Libertarian or "Randian", maybe Machiavellian? At any rate the views you express are quite consistent with those ideologies.

You did however claim that our liberal democracy is a terrible thing that survives despite itself:

" The fact that large democracies are based in the same non credible framework doesn't mean they must collapse just that , like religion, they are in balance a terrible and destructive way to organize a society."

Deliberate Falsehood

There is a standard in the law of fraud: "Knew or had reason to know." Trump has ample reason to know that much of what he says is false.

Correct

“A lie is a deliberate falsehood” is a correct definition of lying. As you said, correctly, again, “The ability to prove a liar is lying is a separate issue and does not define a lie as such.” However, in a society where presumption of innocence is a given, a lie may be a lie even without a proof but it should not be called a lie in this case. A murderer may be a murderer but if not proven guilty, he is not. So let’s analyze some cases. Bush didn’t lie because he believed in WMD in Iraq (there is no proof to the contrary) so it was not a deliberate falsehood. If Trump honestly believes in wiretapping, it is not a lie either by this definition. So when you say that “it's a lie because it's a manufactured accusation that Trump is deliberately making without any reliable evidence,” it is not correct because you do not know if it is a manufactured accusation or not. So stupidity does not convert a lie into truth but neither does it prove that it is a lie. And repeating someone’s false claims without knowing that they are false is not lying either by your original definition.

Lying Around

Your definition gives a pass to people who have been given every reason to believe their falsehoods are in fact false, but who stubbornly refuse to change their minds. You are also letting off the hook people who never look to see if their beliefs are wrong (if a falsehood is never challenged, why would you not believe it to be true?).

"If Trump honestly believes in wiretapping, it is not a lie either by this definition." Does he have reason to believe it is true? Let's use your standard of requiring proof before calling someone a liar: Before accusing President Obama of wiretapping, shouldn't he have reasons to believe that? Shouldn't he be prepared to back his assertions up with evidence? Shouldn't he know enough about what happened without calling for a congressional investigation?

It does not

First, it was not my definition but Mr. Udstrand’s; I just agreed with that. Second, who decides what “every reason to believe their falsehoods are in fact false” is? Is a true believer a liar just because an atheist thinks that he provided every reason that God doesn’t exist? Or even because that true believer never read a book denying God’s existence? I like when my assertions are challenged (and try to respond to every one, as you may have noticed; if I don’t, it means it is beyond my control) but some people don’t and don’t even want to listen to other point of view or read about it; that still doesn’t make those people liars. Stupid, maybe, stubborn, definitely, but not liars. So we may not know now for sure if Trump lies about wiretapping… I can always back my assertions with facts and logic and think we should not make those assertions if we can’t back them up but others are different. Again, that doesn’t make them necessarily liars.

No, the epidemic of lying is not an innate feature of scale.

Chiefly, it has three sources:

-A critical mass of people has lost the capacity to assess a statement for its veracity.

-A critical mass of people has regressed to an authoritarian mindset, in which the distinction between lies and truth ceases to have meaning because words (and actions) are only about prevailing over the declared enemy.

-A critical mass of people either (a) no longer can judge character in those it elects to office (lack of critical capacity), or (b) no longer considers character relevant (authoritarian mindset).

This regression exists principally because for the past 50 years, it has been the chief electoral strategy of one of our two major parties to foster it. It is not a feature of a “complex democracy,” but rather the clearest evidence of how far we have diverged from the path toward something that might be called by that name.

?

So it isn't inherent to the system, just the fact that there are too many people you disagree with taking advantage of the system? Seems like a system that is dependent on making decisions based on popularity contests is very susptible to the exact conditions you describe, which was my point. The trouble is that when the systems controlled by elections (more than 40% of GDP) there is no way for voters to have a clear understanding of what is or isn't true. Even the most specialized experts have meaningful disagreements about cause and effect so the idea that voters can actual judge what does and doesn't work is ludicrous. At that point those sealing power simply appeal to the us verses them instinct in everyone in order to move the needle in their favor. Liking is a very effective method for doing that when dealing with large groups. In fact, lying is always more effective in manipulating the masses because you can promise the impossible which is a lot more attractive than what is real.

?

Look Mr. Berg might be conflating a few different terms and principles.

GDP is an economic term, not an electoral concept, so 40% of GDP doesn't describe the electorate? Elections aren't necessarily popularity contests, Clinton and Trump for instance were both decidedly unpopular candidates. If you don't want the "system" to be controlled by elections, what's your alternative? It's not actually that difficult to figure out what works and what doesn't work in terms of policy. The problem isn't that we don't what works, the problem is our politicians refuse to do what works because they service the elite.

By the way one thing we actually know about what works and what doesn't (cause and effect wise), is that criminal and dishonest governments that lie to their citizens tend to collapse. Think Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, Fascists, Nixon, and probably Trump. The difference is that in a liberal democracy, since the regime isn't concentrated in the Executive, the Executive can collapse but the government survives. The power in liberal democracies is dispersed in such a way that Executive power can wax and wane without destroying the nation. The Soviet Union for instance couldn't quite pull that off. Modern history clearly shows us that liberal democracies are the most resilient and enduring form of government have, and the standards of living they've provided are the highest in history. Compare for instance the standard of living for the majority of people in Edwardian England with post war Parliamentary England.

Now one could say that ancient empires lasted a long time, and they did. But most empires survived by virtue of military conquest at a time when military technology didn't assure complete mutual destruction. By the time we get in the Napoleonic wars military technology is beginning to wreak such havoc that enduring conquest is too costly, and ultimately suicidal. Attempts to conquer the "known" world were routine and mostly successful for couple thousand years until barbed wire and Maxim machine guns came along.

Not quite

No, I did not conflate any terms. The point on GDP was to illustrate how much complexity and value there is in the control currently put in the hands of popularity contests. It illustrates better than any other metric the vast size and complexity of the system you are asking to be managed by people selected by popularity contests. You argue against yourself if you complain that the winners in these contests have a tendency to serve the "elite". Besides, of course they do, that is due to the fact that special interests of all types are strongly motivated to have control of a strong central state. Seems you are supporting a main thread of my thinking.

The rest of your post doesn't really address anything I have posted so I am not sure what the point of it is other than an attempt to support the fallacy that democracy is the reason for all good and the defense against all that is bad. I agree that a strong executive is highly problematic, it being the most concentrated form of centralized power. Of course Germany and Italy were democracies before WW2. Also the U.S., U.K and many other liberal democracies have purposefully enacted policies of genocide, slavery, eugenics, segregation, and empire while they remained relatively stable as governments. Another issue is of course that the more control we place in a central state the more power is given to the executive because that is where the bureaucracy reports. A large progressive system also requires the judicial branch to be flexible and allow policies which skirt predefined limits of state power if it is in the "interest of the common good". The trouble might be in part your use of the term "liberal democracy". You seem to use it as a synonym for "social democracy" when those terms have very different meanings. Going back to the idea that big and little "L" liberal don't mean the same thing no matter how much some big "L" Liberals would like them to.

I'll try again

What does your "40%" of GDP refer to, and what does Gross Domestic Product have to do with control derived from popularity contests?

I "popularity" controls our political discourse, then why were our last two presidential candidates the most unpopular candidates in US history?

If you don't trust systems that are controlled by elections, what's your alternative?

You contradict yourself:

"You argue against yourself if you complain that the winners in these contests have a tendency to serve the "elite". Besides, of course they do, ..."

Does our political system serve the elite or not? If they do, how is my observation (which you apparently agree with) against myself?

Response to Dan Berg

In a representative democracy, a citizen doesn’t need a refined knowledge in esoteric realms. A citizens’ duty is to develop a thoughtful position on the general values and goals of the society, to vote for persons of good character who possess the skills involved in formulating and enacting public policy decisions, and to monitor elected representatives to ensure that one's judgments were well made or to make a correction if they weren't. This framework scales up nicely.

The scale problem arises only because so much of the public (largely due to the concerted efforts of the few over recent decades) has lost its capacity to thoughtfully consider the moral and practical questions of organizing a society and to judge character. As a result, a very unacceptably large proportion of people elected to office are persons of the lowest character, grifters and sociopaths who see the opportunity that levers of power and diminished accountability (which are indeed features of scale) offer when the public is so easily manipulated, and move in to enrich themselves and seek cathartic outlet for their pathologies by projecting them from the parapet of higher office onto the public beneath.

On your more general stance, as a leftist I agree entirely that the smaller and more decentralized government is, the better. In theory. What I don’t see you recognizing is that the size and scale of government is a dependent, not independent, variable: it must match the size and scale of concentrated private power in order for the collective interest of the many to counterbalance the concentrated power of the few. If private power is concentrated and of national/international scale, but the collective power limited, then private power continues to concentrate unimpeded and the welfare of the many quickly is trampled to dust. Of course, in a failed democracy such as ours, government just becomes one more mode to be captured by concentrated private power and used to advance its own goals. That is a profoundly powerful problem, which I think is your point. But addressing this by “drowning government in the bathtub” still leaves private power with its other modes of action and eliminates the possibility of collective action to mitigate the prerogatives of private power and salvage the general welfare. I can’t tell you the solution, but I think dismantling government of larger scale gives up the possibility, however slim, of achieving it.

Look...

Politicians of both parties have been lying to us for decades, Trumpism isn't a new thing in that respect.

The entire debate about "entitlements" is a lie. We are NOT as a nation "broke" financially, we can in FACT afford our obligations regarding Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. The claim that these programs (and the claim is made by republicans AND democrats) are financially unsustainable is a lie. We can EASILY address any financial challenges these programs face any time we want by A) raisin the income cap for witholding and/or B) re-budgeting defense spending. The entitlement "crises is entirely manufactured and artificial.

There is in fact NO economic justification for public subsidies for professional sports. These statdiums and arenas are NOT public infrastructure. These are not public investments that yield any kind of financial return to taxpayers. Yet they are always built on that premise. Stadiums and arena's are taxpayer financed palaces for the elite, they are not "peoples" stadiums.

We went to war for oil, not just once but twice. We didn't end up getting the oil but that's because wars rarely work out the way warmongers think they will, not because we were warring for something else. We didn't get Viet Nam either.

Clinton had sex with Monica Lewinski and lied under Oath. I don't think he should have been impeached for it, but he lied.

Tim Pawlenty lied during several election cycles telling voters MN had a surplus when in fact it had deficits throughout his entire regime.

Tax cuts fix deficits, we have a spending problem not a revenue problem, capitalist's don't need to be regulated... all lies.

"Mission accomplished, I am not a crook, I didn't not trade arms for hostages, I did not have sex with that woman, the Soviets have more missiles than we do, the Chinese are taking over Viet Nam, the soviets are building a base in Nicaragua" and through it all the media refused to use the "L" word.

I could go on all day. Big lies, little lies, local lies, national lies, worldwide lies, relatively innocuous lies, and extremely deadly lies. Trumps problem isn't that he's lying, it's that his lies don't clearly service the elite in the prescribed manor. We saw with his first "presidential" address to Congress that the media are more than willing to cut him plenty of slack if he just tones down the rhetoric a little and behaves more like previous liars. If Trump dresses better and stops waving his arms around the media will stop calling him a liar... not because he stopped lying.

What is a lie (or the truth)?

What is a lie (or the truth)? How about using the same standards as are used in our justice system which is a preponderance of evidence. Problem is: some parties offer none or obscure it. There are some terms for this in law: interference, conspiracy and obstruction of justice are just a few. And these are punishable actions.

The adversarial legal model doesn't work

Our legal system isn't designed to define behavior, it's designed to render judgments based on certain rules of evidence. It took decades for the courts to decide for instance that cigarette companies were lying about the dangers of smoking. I don't think that's model we want to use to asses the honesty of our politicians. That would actually give dishonest politicians a pretty strong wall to hide behind.