When it’s OK to lie

Jeff Jarvis tackles an issue that has puzzled me — and most journalists, I suspect for years: people who think it’s OK to lie.

Isn’t telling the truth the norm in our society? Don’t you expect anyone you know — friend, family member, coworker — to tell you the truth? If they don’t, aren’t you at least disappointed? If caught in a lie don’t you expect your credibility to be diminished? Isn’t there a cost to lying in society?

So how could that norm be canceled for public figures, for politicians who insist we’ll have death panels or for performers on stage who think the spotlight forgives lies?

It reminds me of a suggestion my wife made back in 2006 when I was still the editor of the paper. “You know what you need to do? You need to create a standing column on public lies. You could fill it every day…. Jessica and Nick say they’re happily married. Angelina says she’s not dating Brad. WMDs. ‘I did not have sex with that woman.’

“You say you want readers to connect emotionally with the paper, to feel smarter after reading it, to be inspired and entertained. I guarantee this would be the most entertaining thing in the paper. You could call it ‘The check’s in the mail.'”

I didn’t do it. Yet one more regret I have.

One thought on “When it’s OK to lie

  1. And we need news reporters to state the truth, even when doing so means abandoning the decades-old convention of quoting liars or coaxing someone else to say what’s true. We need editors who will let reporters use the expertise they have developed.

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