The Blog

National Media: Start Tracking the "Falsehoods" of an Admitted Liar

Whether about the war, global warming, the economy or social security, Bush "has such a high regard for the truth that he uses it sparingly," as Lincoln said of a rival.
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While the national media continue to avoid using the "L word" with Bush -- apparently it's worse to call someone a liar than be one -- what should happen now that W is an admitted, er, deceiver?

Four days before the mid-term election, Bush said that Rumsfeld was doing a "fantastic job" and would stay for the final two years of his term -- and then he canned Rummy five days later, a plan in the works pre-election. Why the lie? Bush said that he didn't want to politicize the election, an excuse which can justify any falsehood by any pol.

Here a confession: when Eric Alterman and I in 2002-04 were writing The Book on Bush, which chronicled most of his first term's false and misleading statements, Eric wanted to call him a liar but I held off, as we settled for a footnote which explained that whether it was intentional or not was something only he could know, but that a pattern of misstatements was unarguable..

Well, Eric was right and I was wrong. Now that Bush has let the cat out of the bag, he should be called to account for his obvious and repeated falsehoods. Like when he said, the week he was sticking with Rumsfeld, that he had never been about "staying the course," which enabled the cable channels to have a field day showing the numerous times he had in fact uttered the phrase.

Adding together all the deceptions reported in all the Bush books (David Corn's and Frank Rich's especially), as well as ongoing daily reporting, there is now no historical doubt that George W. Bush utters more falsehoods than all modern presidents combined. Sure others at times lied, but entire books couldn't be written about Nixon's or Johnson's lies, whoppers about Watergate and Vietnam notwithstanding. For whether about the war, global warming, the economy or social security, Bush "has such a high regard for the truth that he uses it sparingly," as Lincoln said of a rival.

And he'll keep doing it hoping that a) 25% of the public will believe anything he says behind the presidential seal and b) the national media won't call him on it because they can't call him a liar daily. Violates some unwritten etiquette apparently.

But why? If he violates the protocol that presidents shouldn't routinely lie, why should the media continue the protocol of performing as a conveyor belt of provably false information? Is there not a way to inform the credulous public about his irresistible penchant to confidently lie?

If the hangup is on a word that may be becoming a N word of politics, may I suggest that national editors come up with acceptable synonym. Call it something, anything else, and then keep a weekly box, like football standings, so readers can catch up with his latest inventions. This would at least educate readers and, hope-springs-eternal, perhaps even discourage his prolific prevaricating.

So NYTimes and Washington Post -- or any newspaper -- how about a "Falsehood Fact Check", much as they already do after a major senate or presidential debate. If they do it during elections, why not between elections? Or does every American newspaper agree that the only "accountability moment," to quote the president, occurs once every two or four years?