Charles Lewis, founder of the Center for Public Integrity, appeared on CSPAN's Washington Journal on Aug. 5 to talk about his book, 935 Lies: The Future of Truth and the Decline of America's Moral Integrity," in which he discusses the many ways truth is manipulated by governments and corporations.
For instance, some might recall that President Eisenhower disavowed the spying mission of the U-2 over Russia, but the Russians captured the pilot, Francis Gary Powers, alive. This writer rationalized that Ike wasn't lying to the American people but to the Russians, so this was a necessary Cold War tactic.
Later, President Carter promised the American people that he would never lie to them, but that was the first lie.
Now people who follow the news are accustomed to government agencies being caught in lies on an almost daily basis, then issuing insincere apologies. They reaffirm that they are still proud of their work and "committed" to continuing to perform pretty much the same way once the scandal of the day blows over because it is overtaken by another scandal.
Asked by host Greta Wodele Brawner what the story is, Lewis didn't sugarcoat it: "Basically half a century of misrepresentations by those in power, both government and the private sector — corporations in particular. And the role of journalists — did they find out the truth in real time, or did it take years or decades to find it out? But it's really about, if we don't know the truth about any issue when it's happening, and we only find it out years later, or decades later, then we actually have no idea what's going on."
He asked "how problems can be addressed if you don't know the facts in real time."
It reminds this writer of a major project of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), where truth if often treated as an intruder, and the agency has been working on something called the Consolidated Audit Trail (CAT). The purpose of this is admittedly to give the SEC the data it needs to conduct surveillance of the market so that it can respond to future flash crashes sooner than the months or years of Lewis' model. In the regulation the SEC adopted it was specifically prescribed that data would not be assembled sooner than 8:00 a.m. the day after trading takes place. Asked how this can possibly be acceptable, a leading expert on the agency said it's good enough, and that is the party line. Thus, if some contractor or prospective contractor figured out how to do it sooner, that would not comply with the regulation.
Lewis said he started with the war in Iraq and went back and found more and more incidents of misleading statements. Given all the spin and four times as many PR people, he was disturbed to contemplate just how difficult it is to discern the truth.
This writer has observed that the nature of truth has evolved over time, much as Orwell imagined, and we are now 30 years past 1984, to a point that truth is what the public relations, public policy or crisis management client will pay for.
(Archived video can be found here
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