Matt HealeySunday,19 May 2013

The Snap:

Most of my recent posts have been about the Appalachian Trail because I have been hiking and out of touch with news. The only real news that matters on the trail is the weather. But I have been off trail for almost a week and thus exposed to more news. One of the things that I find distasteful is the barrage of outright lies that are routinely perpetrated in press releases and other public statements.

The Download:

I remember one of the classes I took at the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon. It was Public Communications. One of the main lessons was to stay on message. Don’t deviate from the talking point that you want to get across. The reason for this was that the press is under tremendous time pressure. Fact checkers have largely been eliminated at most major news outlets due to cost cutting. So, by staying on message, you can sculpt the story to put your company, organization, or candidate in the beat possible light. It is important to note that Tepper was quite clear that you should not outright lie, but it was not up to you to provide all of the negative details.

The problem with this that the line between an outright lie and framing a story has disappeared. We can argue where it started. Did it begin with Nixon and Watergate, or Clinton and “It depends on what the definition of the of the word ‘is’ is,” did it start with W and “Mission Accomplished,” or Palin claiming she was cleared of all wrongdoing in the Alaska state troop investigation? Each of these statements, in my mind, are lies. They were made in an effort to deceive the public. From my perspective, the problem is that the boldness of the lies has been growing significantly. Furthermore, the scope of the liars has been growing. It now includes politicians, athletes, corporate executives, celebrities, reporters, and even the military.

If we want to reduce the frequency of the lies, then we need to figure out what is causing the increase in lying. It is easy to blame the liars — after all, they are the ones who told the lies. But that is an oversimplification. In many cases the liar told the lie because we live in an ADD, bullet point, Twitter-dominated world combined with the “win at all costs” mindset in politics and sports, and the “money is above everything else” mindset in business and entertainment. The result is a world where mistakes are not tolerated. Ever. The problem with that is that as Jackson Mead so eloquently pointed out here, we are all human and we make mistakes. So the lying continues and will continue. I am not sure if we can do anything to stem the rising tide of untruth, and I fear the result will be increasingly difficult society to manage.

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Image Credit: Flickr

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