Is Tolerance of Dishonesty the Fundamental Problem in Our Culture?

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Eric Zuesse

NBC-TV’s star news-anchor Brian Williams got caught repeatedly lying and fabricating his fake-‘courageous’ personal involvement in news stories that he had ‘reported.’ At LinkedIn, Rob Wyse headlined recently, “Brian Williams Essentially Lied on His Resume, Or Exaggerated The Truth,” and he noted there:

“Whether you call it a lie, or an exaggeration — it is a breach of trust. And that is what is looming over Brian Williams. A breach of his public trust. He is a trusted figure in our society. Perhaps the position of news anchor does not hold the same vaulted [he meant vaunted] esteem and prestige as in the days of Edward R. Murrow, or Walter Cronkite — but nonetheless, Williams is in a position of responsibility and trust. And when trust is broken, you almost never gain it back.”

Most of the (thus far) 507 reader comments to that post are negative toward the post. A typical one was: “Rather silly article…he has a resume that needs no padding. So therefore this posting shows very clearly the completely misguiding value system the ‘press’ and the writer of this post has. Don’t be the problem.”

Another: “To paraphrase Tom Brady, nobody had died over this.”

Another: “Big Deal, everyone pads their Resume.”

In a culture like that, one can easily understand why the U.S. President (his Solicitor General) presented a friend-of-the-court brief arguing to the U.S. Supreme Court, that no one should be able to be penalized in any court in this country for having lied in a political campaign.

The President of the United States wants courts and the law to stay out of monitoring the verbal honesty, and out of penalizing any demonstrable lying, in political campaigns. A 9-0 (unanimous!) decision, written by Clarence Thomas, had the 9 members of the nation’s highest court agree with the President’s position.

The President’s lawyer had argued for “free speech” and said that a law in Ohio banning provable lying in political campaigns constituted an unconstitutional restriction on the speech that is the most important of all to be protected, which is speech regarding political matters. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed with the President, because they found (in Susan B. Anthony List v. Dreihaus) that there was “a credible threat of enforcement of the Ohio law.” They even said: “The threat of future enforcement is substantial,” which is “of particular concern because of the burden they [‘legal proceedings’] impose on electoral speech” (i.e., the ‘burden’ to prove that one wasn’t lying in a political campaign — a ‘burden’ that doesn’t even present itself if the given allegation that was made during the campaign was factually true — a ‘burden’ that is possible to arise only if the given allegation was actually false, so that the given allegation needed to be either reckless or else an outright lie, in order for a court to be able even to hear the case at all, under the Ohio law). Moreover, the ‘Justices’ went on, “this Court need not decide whether the threat of Commission proceedings standing alone is sufficient; here, those proceedings are backed by the additional threat of criminal prosecution.” There, most emphatically, the 9 ‘Justices’ ruled, unanimously, that lying in politics can never be a crime, anywhere in this country. The President, and other political liars or would-be political liars, had won, hands-down.

Who had lost? A politician who had been defeated by a political lie had initially brought this case; he won it in a lower court and the liars (the “petitioners” in this case before the U.S. Supreme Court) were here appealing that lower court’s ruling that had been in the victim’s favor; but what about the voters whose votes had been based upon that lie and so who had voted (on the basis of that falsehood) for his opponent? Both the U.S. Supreme Court, and the U.S. President, simply ignored the voters, or the voters’ rights — their rights to avoid being deceived by lying politicians and to avoid having their votes mentally forced (by means of those lies) in favor of liars, and in disfavor of honest people — were simply being ignored in this ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, America’s highest Court. Supposedly, the U.S. Constitution provides no protection to their rights, to those rights, of voters. Supposedly, in an authentic democracy, outright political fraud is acceptable: voters may be “lied into” voting for and against things. Supposedly, in an authentic democracy, voters may be fooled, and elections may be based upon lying to the public, lying about matters of political importance. The politician whose re-election might have been stolen by a political liar or agents on his behalf, was the only potentially wronged party in this case (according to the ‘Justices’), but the right to lie, especially in politics, is, according to the U.S. Constitution, a higher right, according to all 9 ‘Justices’; and legal proceedings about a lie “would impose a substantial hardship on petitioners, forcing them to choose between refraining from core political speech on the one hand, or engaging in that speech and risking costly Commission proceedings and criminal prosecution on the other.”

Courts are not normally so concerned about any “substantial hardship” for complying with a legal obligation, but this court was, when the legal obligation required to avoid lying in politics: the First Amendment has, in this regard, become the Supreme Court’s “open sesame” to unlimited lying in politics, and not only (as in the Court’s infamous 2010 Citizens United decision) to unlimited money in politics (which was, however, a totally partisan, 5-to-4 split in this Court).

And, so, if a politician or anyone who is for or against him, has the right to lie to the public about him or her, or about this-issue-or-that-issue, then does not any mere employee or else job-applicant have the right to lie on a resume (which is strictly a private issue), and doesn’t any ’news reporter’ then also have the right to lie about anything at all — even political matters? If the courts should not get involved in this matter of political truthfulness, when the interests are clearly public ones, then why should lying by anyone, in any lesser, merely private business, matter — such as the employment of Brian Williams — why should any such person have to face penalties of any sort (even just a termination of employment), for ‘merely’ lying?

If Brian Williams lied about himself so as to increase his viewership and thus now be ‘earning’ $10 million per year and be at the top of his ‘profession,’ as he is and did, then who cares about voters, viewers, or other ‘little guys,’ who are deceived and thus manipulated by such people — either to view such ‘journalists’, or to vote in this or that way? As Rob Wyse courageously (since it’s in a culture that blames the victim and that admires the skill of the victimizer in such matters) admitted, in his own particular instance:

“I was a dedicated viewer even when he was on CNBC from 2002-2004 with a prime-time news broadcast. And, Williams has people coming to his defense, for example CNBC’s Larry Kudlow” (who also gains viewers and huge wealth by publicly misrepresenting things). 

To assist thinking about this (which is a legal matter that’s also unquestionably a moral one), I would suggest to consider that there are fundamentally only three distinct types of force (or “coercion”), each one of which ought to be illegal, and even criminally so (since there are victims in all three):

First, of course, there is the obvious type, violence or the threat of violence, which is force against the body of the victim.

Second (which is only slightly less obvious), there is theft or the threat of theft, which is force against the victim’s property.

Third (which is the least obvious of all), is deception, which is force against the victim’s mind.

The first two types of crime are physical, but the third one is spiritual: it is force against the person’s essence, the person’s beliefs, the person’s values; it is force used against the person’s consciousness, manipulating that victim by means of deceit. In this sense, it is the most vile, because it manipulates not only what that person is (including alive or dead), but who that person is: Democrat, Republican, Christian, Jew, Muslim, or whatever. It manipulates the victim’s personal identity, the individual’s values, the individual’s character.

The lower classes tend more toward using the first two types of coercion; the upper classes tend more toward using the third. Consequently, a culture that has been shaped by its upper classes will strongly favor deception, as compared to violence and theft: only the latter two will be severely penalized, in an aristocracy. (Consequently, the rich, who find theft the most threatening, will love this pro-aristocracy Supreme Court, which protects them from their main fear and which also leaves them virtually total freedom to use their main form of coercion against the public.)

There is nothing in the U.S. Constitution which had that original intent, but two centuries of increasing rule by the top economic class have increasingly cemented-in this strong legal preference for fraud as opposed to theft and violence. President Obama strongly supports the protection of the top-rank fraudsters, the megabuck CEOs whose MBS frauds brought down the economy in 2008.

The readers of Rob Wyse’s commentary who responded like “To paraphrase Tom Brady, nobody had died over this,” were presenting the most common rationalization for preferring fraudsters over thieves or thugs: “nobody has died” from fraud. In Brian Williams’s case, a slight possibility exists that that is true, but how many people have died from George W. Bush’s deceits regarding Iraq (just to cite the most obvious recent example of mass-murder via deceit), and how many people have died from the tobacco industry’s deceits about the safety of smoking (just to mention those two examples, which are both passionately defended by Republicans, unlike the current one, which was 9-to-0 bi-partisan)?

In other words: anyone who defends the right of any liar to lie (and especially in political matters, which can have huge consequences) is defending someone who should rather be treated as being a criminal, but it seems that the vast majority of the American public nonetheless believe that way: they have been culturally fooled by the aristocracy.

And that, it seems, is the real issue here: the deception of the American public has been massively successful. It’s a massive ongoing crime that protects the most elite of crooks in America. According to our Supreme Court, those people are virtually immune from any serious prosecutions even if they’ve actually poisoned or otherwise killed millions by their frauds, or lied the nation into invasion and war. It’s “protected speech.” The victims aren’t protected.

A more profoundly “two-tiered system of ‘justice’” can hardly be imagined. This Court is consequently full-throated in support of violating the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. (However, the Supreme Court on 9 and 12 December 2000 used an entirely novel interpretation of that same Clause in order to appoint George W. Bush as President, on what turned out to be a 5-to-4 vote, the only U.S. Presidential ‘election’ that was won and lost by a one-vote margin where it really counted — among those ‘Justices’ — and also the only occasion in modern times when it was Republicans who were arguing, and on entirely imaginative grounds, that this was an Equal Protection case, and the Democrats who argued that the case was not that, at all, but that the Republicans were instead using the Equal Protection Clause against its original and constant intent. So much, then, for “original intent” instead of politics, deciding what “the Law” ‘actually’ says.)

If America tolerates dishonesty, as it clearly seems to, then, as Cassius said in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar:

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,

But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”

How right he was — and not in the political sense!


Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of  They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010,  and of  CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.

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  • Mark

    Nice article. I posted a blog post on a UFO website, some years back, about how this pro-“freedom” attitude is a real problem that is hurting the UFOlogy community, as well as many other things, and that we should stop believing in “freedom” and start acknowledging that The United States is, just like all other organized societies, a system of oppression. This tolerance of lies, whether it is about mainstream politics or non-mainstream stuff like UFOlogy, needs to be stopped. I am proud to stand up and say that I am anti-freedom. I am proud to say that I want to oppress lying, and other violations of the rules of reason in discourse.

  • Human Relations 1932

    Yes, dishonesty and tolerance for it gets little attention when you consider just how pervasive it really is. Sure, the occasional haircut support platform such as Williams and various pols get caught out here and there, but those are merely the sacrificial goats that allow the continuation of business as usual. And certainly it’s not just a problem of the so poorly-named elites of society. A lie itself is merely the smallest unit of dishonesty, though; the adept know that too keep their bs working for them it’s necessary to create grand narratives to legitimize their deception, while a substantial portion of the public never sees the need to take personal responsibility for believing in, and thereby enabling, continued falsehoods. After all, it’s not as if it’s encouraged to do so.

  • gamesjon

    Honestly I think this is not the correct way of looking at things. I think that considering the amount of honesty vs. dishonesty (at least from to top) isn’t it more like we have a tolerance (slight) for honesty? I mean there obviously isn’t any issue with the lying part when its done because that is really pretty easy to solve by both not doing it anymore and calling out others when they do. The real issue is when they mess up so bad that some lie or another surfaces and they have to go the the hassle in dealing with it.

  • james

    Almost 100% of what Brian Williams has been reporting for several years is dishonest.

    Same with every other newsperson, spitting propaganda continuously.

    Brian Williams isn’t a reporter. He’s a reader. Therefore he has no idea that it’s all bunk. He’s paid to look good, sound convincing and read the script. Honesty is not in the job description.

  • Tom Welsh

    Surely you are overlooking an important fact: lying is an essential tool both in politics and business. It’s the American Way! And you wouldn’t want to restrict the spirit of enterprise, now would you? As for the voters, well, caveat emptor. It’s up to them to figure out if a candidate is lying; and if he is, and they don’t see it, well that’s just too bad. He outsmarted them, so he deserves the prize.

    • larm007

      BS. ‘Know the truth, and truth shall set you free’ or how about ‘Thou shall not bear false witness’. Lies underscore the great destructive political divide we have in this country today. And to get ‘your way’ based on lies is nothing more than an outlandish show of moral depravity. Why do so many vote for issues that are not in their best interest? I think it’s a combination of sins of commission (lies) and sins of omission (truth). A democracy supported by ill-informed citizens, is no democracy at all. To say that lying is an essential tool is the American Way is a very, very sad statement that no one should be proud of.

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