In the hyperreal world of American news media, lying about lying has become the foundation of effective fake news.
Complaining about President Donald Trump’s belated, laborious and disingenuous explanation of why he referred to Apple CEO Tim Cook as “Tim Apple,” CNN’s Don Lemon told his own untruth, explaining to viewers that, “When you lie about anything, you’ll lie about everything.”
Has Lemon never told a lie? If he has, then by his own reasoning, everything he says is a lie. And since it is manifestly true that everyone on earth has lied about something at least once in their lifetime however scrupulous they may be about telling the truth, it is clearly a lie to say, “When you lie about anything, you’ll lie about everything.” So we don’t even need to ask whether Lemon has ever told a lie. That is one.
Serious journalists should learn to be careful with words like “anything” and “everything.”
Here is today’s 3D definition:
A convenient way to neglect details and nuance in an effort to categorize something or someone you disagree with as absolutely wrong or evil
Mainstream media in the US, whatever their political orientation, follow two guidelines to sustain and eventually develop their ratings: entertainment and ideological appeal to their target audience. Everything else is secondary, including elements of the news that may lead to understanding or appreciating complexity. Whether it’s CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, ABC or any of the others, they focus on meeting their audience’s expectations and, whenever possible, will strive to titillate them with something unexpected but consistent with their biases.
The Trump era has quite naturally exacerbated the trend. Trump, the public personality, is both a product of the entertainment industry and a shameless salesman/propagandist with no regard for the truth and even less for the analysis of complex issues. He has proved to be a godsend to the news media and late-night comedians. On a daily basis, with his tweets alone, he offers news outlets the opportunity to take sides and deploy their entertaining weapons of indignation and outrage either against him (MSNBC, CNN) or in his defense (Fox News and countless right-wing shock jocks).
Accusations against personalities deemed to be unworthy unfailingly entertain the people who share their judgment of the personalities in question. Don Lemon, Chris Cuomo and others at CNN understand the entertainment value of what they report and exploit it to the hilt, as do the late-night comics who have prospered thanks to Trump’s willingness to supply them with their daily dose of stupidity and inept rhetoric. Shared indignation liberates such commenters from any form of rigorous logic. Thus Lemon can comfortably state, as if it was a truism, that: “When you lie about anything, you’ll lie about everything.”
Some may find it strange that, in light of that statement, Lemon has no qualms about frequently inviting former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, a regular CNN contributor, to “analyze” in greater depth the news of the day. Clapper notoriously lied under oath to the Senate Intelligence Committee concerning the National Security Agency’s surveillance program. And yet Lemon never suspects him of providing false or skewed testimony on CNN. The Hill, on the other hand, seems only too eager to apply Lemon’s dictum to Clapper, finding numerous other examples of what it charitably calls “inconsistent testimony.” Worse, it points out that “Clapper is accused of not only lying to the public but to the media for which he now works.” Which means, presumably, that he lies to Don Lemon.
.@donlemon: When you lie about anything, you’ll lie about everything and there is apparently nothing that is too small or too insignificant for this President to lie about. #DonsTake pic.twitter.com/vlMRFHiU5f
— CNN Tonight (@CNNTonight) March 12, 2019
But this is part of a worrying trend. Since Trump’s election in November 2016, both CNN or MSNBC — stations “sympathetic” to the Democratic Party establishment — have enthusiastically embraced the intelligence community, constantly inviting celebrity spies to break down the news for them. It’s as if these agents — whose professional responsibility consisted of manipulating, tweaking, embellishing, distorting and suppressing the truth, largely for aggressive military purposes — are paragons of intellectual integrity and founts of humanizing political wisdom.
The political class in the US has always been flexible on the dubious morality of never hesitating to brutally punish foreign populations for their government’s failure to conform to their own high moral principles through debilitating sanctions or wars for regime change. Those moral principles apparently consist of three things: respecting the interests of Americans (i.e., corporations active across the globe), respecting their own people by refusing practices that resemble socialism and not lying.
In 2003, George W. Bush invaded Iraq officially for three reasons: because Saddam Hussein killed his own people, developed weapons of mass destruction and lied about it. Bush and his allies (who are not liars) claimed they knew Saddam lied. When history revealed that Bush was the liar — unless we are to believe it was simply that he was misinformed by the lying intelligence community — they explained that it was all an honest mistake.
Good Americans never lie. It’s a tradition young George Washington established after chopping down his father’s cherry tree and declaring, “I cannot tell a lie.” The Khan Academy’s curiously deferential account of this mawkish legend and Grant Wood’s possibly ironic treatment of it in the painting they analyze may miss the real point that should be evident to anyone who has read Sigmund Freud. The “favorite cherry tree” represented his father’s phallus. Young Washington symbolically castrated his real father, just as he would do to the British Empire, replacing the king to become “the father of his country.” And he felt no shame, daring to confess his crime, which his father accepted, allowing young George’s usurpation.
Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton were both shamed, not for their acts — one destructive of democracy, the other of a young woman’s life — but for the fact that they lied about them. Don Lemon knows that lying is the supreme sin. What he has in common with Nixon, Clinton and Bush is simply his failure to detect his own lie.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
Support Fair Observer
We rely on your support for our independence, diversity and quality.
For more than 10 years, Fair Observer has been free, fair and independent. No billionaire owns us, no advertisers control us. We are a reader-supported nonprofit. Unlike many other publications, we keep our content free for readers regardless of where they live or whether they can afford to pay. We have no paywalls and no ads.
In the post-truth era of fake news, echo chambers and filter bubbles, we publish a plurality of perspectives from around the world. Anyone can publish with us, but everyone goes through a rigorous editorial process. So, you get fact-checked, well-reasoned content instead of noise.
We publish 2,500+ voices from 90+ countries. We also conduct education and training programs
on subjects ranging from digital media and journalism to writing and critical thinking. This
doesn’t come cheap. Servers, editors, trainers and web developers cost
Please consider supporting us on a regular basis as a recurring donor or a sustaining member.
Will you support FO’s journalism?
We rely on your support for our independence, diversity and quality.