Tag: lying

Imagine the lies

Lying seems to be one of the biggest ethical problems we face today. I posted the other day about the “lie factory” that has taken over our political process. Now, I’ve just gotten wind of something that happened this summer.

Jonah Lehrer

Jonah Lehrer, author of a book called Imagine: How Creativity Works, admits to having fabricated quotes — lying in print for the whole reading world to see.

“The lies are over now,” NPR reported Lehrer saying after he resigned  from his job as a staff writer for The New Yorker.

The author was done in by trying to put words into Bob Dylan’s mouth. A Dylan fan and journalist, Michael Moynihan, smelled the fish and eventually unearthed the truth.

Imagine had been a best-seller for the popular 31-year-old Lehrer. He appeared on Stephen Colbert’s popular Comedy Central show and was being publicly asked his views on a variety of topics.

“You know, I do think in some level this is the predictable outcome of expecting a young journalist to be the next Oliver Sacks,” literary agent Scott Mendel told NPR. Sacks spent decades as a practicing neurologist and psychologist, Mendel said, but Lehrer benefited too quickly from a system that likes its stars.

“It was easy for people to forget that part of Jonah Lehrer’s background and expertise didn’t exist,” Mendel said. “He’s too young to have that kind of experience.”

Mendel added that nonfiction writers throughout history have faked materials, discovered lost texts that weren’t truly lost, or made up characters and events.

That’s a scary revelation for someone like me who reads mostly non-fiction.

What’s new with Lehrer, Mendel told NPR, is how quickly he was exposed. “You can’t write about something people care deeply about without assuming that hundreds, if not thousands, of people will immediately begin checking your facts,” Mendel said.

Let’s simply close with the ninth of the Ten Commandments: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” (Ex. 20:16)

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The “Lie Factory” is still in business

Election year warning: Everything you hear and read is not necessarily true – especially when it comes to TV advertising, direct-mail campaigns and speeches. The news media help us sort through the political fog, but it is going to take some work to get to the truth.

There are, however, some highly paid people out there betting that we will not be willing to work to get to the truth. They’re convinced we will take whatever they say as true. They are paid political consultants, and they work for both political parties.

It all started with two Californians – Leone Baxter and Clem Whitaker, founders of Campaigns, Inc., in 1933. Most of us have never heard of this couple, but they shaped modern political campaigning. A new article in The New Yorker titled, “The Lie Factory: How politics became a business,” tells the story of Campaigns, Inc. Read it and you will hear its reverberations in today’s political advertising.

Baxter and Whitaker made their reputation by orchestrating the defeat of Upton Sinclair in his 1934 run for governor of California. They were hired two months before the election, devoured all of Sinclair’s writings, and then took quotes from his fiction and attributed them to Sinclair, as if they were the author’s words not the fictional character’s. The quotes ran every day on the front page of the Los Angeles Times. “Reading these boxes day after day,” Sinclair wrote, “I made up my mind that the election was lost.”

Baxter later said, ”Sure, those quotations were irrelevant. But we had one objective: to keep him from becoming Governor.”

The New Yorker story says:

“No single development has altered the workings of American democracy in the last century so much as political consulting, an industry unknown before Campaigns, Inc. In the middle decades of the twentieth century, political consultants replaced party bosses as the wielders of political power gained not by votes but by money. Whitaker and Baxter were the first people to make politics a business. … Political management is now a diversified, multibillion dollar industry of managers, speechwriters, pollsters, and advertisers who play a role in everything from this year’s Presidential race to the campaigns of the candidates for your local school committee.”

Well, the reference to school board elections is probably a stretch on The New Yorker’s part, at least in non-metro areas, but there is no doubting the broad influence political consultants now play in American politics.

“Whitaker and Baxter weren’t just inventing new techniques; they were writing a rule book,” The New Yorker says. And see if some of that “rule book” doesn’t seem to be behind today’s political messages. Here’s the magazine’s description:

“Never lobby; woo voters instead. ‘Our conception of practical politics is that if you have a sound enough case to convince the folks back home, you don’t have to buttonhole the Senator,’ Baxter explained.  Make it personal: candidates are easier to sell than issues. If your position doesn’t have an opposition, or if your candidate doesn’t have an opponent, invent one. … Attack, attack, attack. Whitaker said, ‘You can’t wage a defensive campaign and win!’

“Never underestimate the opposition. . . . Every campaign needs a theme. Keep it simple. Rhyming’s good. . . . Never explain anything. ‘The more you have to explain,’ Whitaker said, ‘the more difficult it is to win support.’ Say the same thing over and over again. ‘We assume we have to get a voter’s attention seven times to make a sale,’ Whitaker said. Subtlety is your enemy. . . . ‘A wall goes up,’ Whitaker warned, ‘’when you try to make Mr. and Mrs. Average American Citizen work or think.’

“Fan flames. ‘We need more partisanship in this country,’ Whitaker said. Never shy from controversy; instead, win the controversy. ’ The average American doesn’t want to be educated; he doesn’t want to improve his mind; he doesn’t even want to work, consciously, at being a good citizen,’ Whitaker advised. ‘But there are two ways you can interest him in a campaign, and only two that we have ever found successful.’ You can put on a fight (‘he likes a good hot battle, with no punches pulled’’), or you can put on a show (‘he likes the movies; he likes mysteries; he likes fireworks and parades’): ‘So if you can’t fight, Put ON A SHOW! And if you put on a good show, Mr. and Mrs. America will turn out to see it.’

“Winner takes all. ‘If you launch a campaign for a new car, your client doesn’t expect you to lead the field necessarily in the first year, or even the tenth year,’ Whitaker once said. ‘But in politics, they don’t pay off for PLACE OR SHOW! You have to win, if you want to stay in business.’”

That philosophy, set forth decades ago, shows why politicians campaign as they do today and why they govern as they do. “Winner takes all.”

If these techniques are still effective, I guess it means Mr. and Mrs. Average American citizen still doesn’t want to work or think. It is, however, something that can be changed – by each of us.