Ethics Dunces: Elyse Siegel and Craig Kanalley of the Huffington Post

It should go without saying that before you author a post about “unforgettable lies” to a popular website, you should probably know what a lie is. This detail seems to have eluded Elyse Siegel and Craig Kanally, however. Their Glenn Beck-inspired retrospective of lies by prominent Americans acts to further muddle the public’s understanding of a basic concept, degrading communication and spreading misinformation.

A lie is a statement that intentionally misrepresents facts in order to mislead or deceive someone. A mistake is not a lie. When one makes a statement believing it to be true, and subsequent revelations prove that the statement to be false, that is not lying, though those who want to ascribe bad motives to the statement may incorrectly characterize it as one. Such a statement is not a lie even when it is made recklessly, or out of ignorance, stupidity, or misplaced trust.

Nor is a broken promise a lie, if the promise was sincere when it was made. Promise-keeping is a different virtue than honesty.Then there are disagreements over definitions. Some terms have more than one meaning, and using one of them when a listener is thinking of a different definition may be poor communication or sloppy thinking, but it is not a lie unless it is intended to deceive.

The Huffington Post piece blurs these important distinctions, and this is a problem. Lying suggests malice, and it has become increasingly common for civic debate to feature the epithet of “Liar!” being directed at writers, pundits and politicians who are simply stating sincere opinions. In fact, many of the bloggers at the Huntington Post do this routinely, which may be why no editor pointed out that Siegel and Kanalley’s post showed that they didn’t understand what they were writing about. In fact, by their definition of the word, the post contains several lies.

It doesn’t, though. It is just wrong.

You can pick out the non-lies in their honest but incompetent post here. By my count, at least five and maybe six of the “lies” are not lies at all. Of course, the authors would not have had to resort to non-lies if they weren’t so dedicated to featuring conservatives and Republicans on their list. There are plenty of clear-cut lies by Democrats and non-political types that were worthy of the list if their post didn’t have to double as a political hit piece.  Where, for example, are Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal’s serial claims of Viet Nam combat service? Isn’t Ted Kennedy’s infamous statement about his negligent homicide of Mary Jo Kopechne just a bit more famous and important than Glenn Beck’s fib at his Lincoln Memorial rally? How about former Justice Souter’s claim, under oath before the U.S. Senate, that he had never given any thought to the abortion issue? Or Senator Roland Burris’s statement to the Senate that he had no contact with Rod Blagojevich prior to being appointed to his seat, a statement he recanted as soon as he was confirmed?

These were all real lies, significant, intentional, and infamous.

Mark Kirk’s Misrepresentations: When Twice Is Too Many

Mark S. Kirk, the Republican candidate for that troublesome Illinois Senate seat (the one Rod Blagojevich tried to sell, the one Roland Burris lied to get) was caught in perpetrating some credential-inflating on his curriculum vitae when it was discovered that what he had long claimed was an award bestowed on him for outstanding service as a military intelligence officer was really a group award for his whole unit, and, in fact, someone else had received the honor he claimed as his own. Continue reading

Premature Ethics Alarm on Obama’s Judicial Appointment, Day 2

Amazingly, even liberal journalists are now presuming that Obama’s appointment of attorney Scott Matheson signals that a deal has been struck with his Congressman brother to reverse his previous votes and support the health care bill, whatever its current form may be. And they are saying that this is hardly sinister, as such deals are commonplace in the rough-and-tumble, amoral world of politics.

Deals like this one, if that’s what it is, are not commonplace. Not when the object is a major systemic overhaul costing billions, not when so much of the public is dubious about it, not when the legislation is so complex that almost nobody completely understands it and definitely not after previous efforts to buy votes–as in the “Louisiana Purchase” and Ben Nelson’s extortion—caused so much public revulsion that they swept a Republican into a U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts. Nobody knows what unsavory back-room tactics L.B.J. used to get the civil rights legislation passed, but that’s the point: you don’t mind the little piece of rat in your sausage if you’re not certain it’s there. Continue reading

The Lies of Enroll Southers

The bottom line is this: President Obama’s nominee to lead the Transportation Security Administration lied to Congress under oath, and Democratic senators who knew he was lying voted to confirm him anyway. Now that his misrepresentation has been discovered and reported, the Administration’s and the Senate’s position is that it doesn’t matter.

It does matter. Continue reading

Well, It’s Better Than Senator Burris’s Version…

[An Ethics Alarms reflection on the Christmas Eve Senate vote passing that esteemed body’s version of health care reform…in the tradition of “A Visit From Saint Nicholas,” because 1) you haven’t read enough parodies of that poem this year, 2) it seemed appropriate, but mostly 3) the version Sen. Burris read on the Senate floor was so terrible that I had to get its taste out of my mouth.]

Continue reading