A Lie by Any Other Name

Charles M. Blow wrote an opinion article in the New York Times on January 26, 2017 about lies told by members of the Trump administration and characterized as “alternative facts.” It reminded me of a sarcastic blog with the same title that I wrote over a decade ago about the kind of lies told by the Bush Administration and its supporters. It’s sad that even after so much time has passed, many people still can’t recognize lies for what they are. I wonder if it’s attributable to ignorance, cognitive dissonance, or perhaps living in alternate realities in which facts truly are not the same. In any case, here’s the blog I wrote so long ago.

A Lie by Any Other Name

Sometimes there are just no words to describe lies told by politicians. They lie so often and in so many different ways that it’s exhausting to always have to explain to the ignorant why their statements are false or misleading. So, I thought it was about time there was terminology that could be used to describe these false statements.

Sociologists, psychologists, and linguists who conduct research on lies study their cause, nature, occasion, victim, subject, size, result, and many other dimensions. I thought it might be simpler to classify political lies only according to their nature and their seriousness. This classification may not be all-inclusive, but it covers the most common political lies.

The nature of a political lie can be classified as one of six different types, each of which I have named in honor of a famous practitioner:

  •  LIDDY — Lies resulting from self-deception, mental confusion, cluelessness, or just plain stupidity.
  •  O’REILLY — Lies using fabricated facts or stories, fakery, or false empathy, often with the intention of lending credibility or establishing commonalities.
  •  HANNITY — Lies that use straw-man arguments, false comparisons, false generalizations, and other logical fallacies.
  •  LIMBAUGH — Lies involving omissions of facts, out-of-context quotes, misrepresented positions, and other misleading statements.
  •  COULTER — Lies involving ad hominem arguments, name calling, and other personal attacks.
  •  GALLUP — Lies that use statistics or that are about a statistical analysis such as a poll.

Lies also have one of five magnitudes:

  •  LIMP — Lies that are trivial, harmless, inconsequential, petty, not worth the time responding to, or just plain stupid.
  •  BLOATED/SHRUNKEN — Lies that are substantial (i.e., not limp) and are based on exaggerations (bloated) or minimizations (shrunken) of the truth.
  •  CRYPTIC — Lies that are consequential (i.e., more than just bloated or shrunken) and are difficult to verify. If you can’t verify that something is a lie by searching the internet, reading a newspaper, opening a book, or watching TV, than it can be considered to be cryptic. Some lies are cryptic because the subject matter is challenging such as scientific or economic analyses. Some lies are cryptic because the information needed to dispute them is dispersed and difficult to gather.
  •  NAKED — Lies that are consequential and are easy to verify. A lie can start off being cryptic but become naked as information is released to the public. Reports that Iraq had WMD began as cryptic but slowly became naked as continued inspections found no weapons.
  •  UBER — Lies that are so obviously and outrageously false that they are laughable and should need no refutation.

Putting these two classifications together creates thirty categories of lies. Each category is named by stringing the lie-type and lie-magnitude together into one word. Here are a few examples:

Nixon: I am not a crook
Bush: Mission Accomplished
Bush Administrations: Reasons for the Iraq War
Delay: We’ve eliminated all the fat in government
Ashcroft: The objective of securing the safety of Americans from crime and terror has been achieved.
Bush’s Crawford ranch
DoD stories about Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman
Bush Administration: White House was trashed by the Clinton Administration when they moved out
O’Reilly: I got my data from the Paris Business Review
Intelligent Design
Bush: Great job, Brownie
Limbaugh: Abu Ghraib was like a fraternity prank, the guards were just blowing off steam
Bush: I’m a uniter not a divider
I don’t think anyone could have anticipated the 9/11 attacks (Rice) or the failure of the NOLA levees (Bush)
Fox News: Fair and Balanced
Al Gore claims to have invented the internet
Bush Administration pays media to sell education and health programs
Bush: I served my term of enlistment honorably in the TX ANG
Bush: You forgot Poland
Limbaugh: Democrats think that America deserves to be attacked by terrorists
Photos of John Kerry windsurfing
Coulter: Justice O’Connor was Reagan’s biggest mistake
Swift Boat Ads
Malkin: Cindy Sheehan is an anti-American, terrorist-sympathizing agitator
Coulter: New Yorkers would immediately surrender to attacking terrorists
Bush’s margin of victory in the 2004 election gave him political capital and a mandate for conservatism
State Department’s count of the number of terrorist attacks
Bush Administration statistics on the economy and the budget, such as Social Security
Republicans are more fiscally responsible than Democrats
Bush: we’ve assembled the largest international coalition in history to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan

So, for example, when the State Department defined terrorist attacks in a way that would minimize their number in their annual report, they told a shrunkengallup. The swift boat ads about John Kerry were crypticcoulters because they were personal attacks that could not be verified easily. Intelligent design (i.e., creationism) is an uberoreilly to those who believe that the creation story is a myth or a metaphor.

Lies can evolve in this system. The first time I heard President Bush’s statement about nobody being able to anticipate that the NOLA levees would have failed, I thought it was a crypticliddy because it would be hard to show that Bush didn’t actually believe what he said. Within a few days, though, two facts emerged. First, FEMA had conducted an exercise called Hurricane Pam that simulated a NOLA disaster, so obviously somebody thought about it. Second, Bush knew he had cut funding for levee repair, so this was no self-deception. Clearly, it was a hannity not a liddy, because the lie was based on a false generalization. When those reports hit the media, Bush’s statement became a nakedhannity.

These new terms can be used to express nuances in the interpretation of lies and differences of opinion between interpreters. Remember when the Bush campaign used the photo of John Kerry windsurfing to cast him as an elitist? I thought that was a limpcoulter. Who cares whether he plays tennis, softball, or golf. The fact that he plays sports at all said to me that he was fit and healthy enough to withstand the rigors of the presidency. Boy was I wrong. Calling it a crypticcoulter or even a crypticlimbaugh would have been more accurate.

So, you think you have the concept? Test your self with the following lies. What would you call them? (Answers Below)

  1.  Cheney: Reagan proved deficits don’t matter.
  1.  Delay:  There’s no fat in government spending. We’ve eliminated it all.
  1.  Santorum: If you have the right to consensual sex, then you have the right to bigamy, incest, and adultery.
  1.  Limbaugh: `Osama’ Obama, `Frenchie’ Kerry, Hurricane Katrina `vanden Heuvel.’
  1.  Rove’s push poll about John McCain having fathered an illegitimate black child.
  1.  The credentials of Jeff Gannon and Michael Brown.

Of course, your answers may be different than mine. That’s the beauty of the system. The names express how we view the lie. So, give the new vocabulary a try. If nothing else, you’ll find it satisfying to slap your forehead and say `now that’s an uberoreilly if I’ve ever heard one.’

1. Crypticliddy.  2. Uberoreilly.  3. Nakedhannity.  4. Limpcoulters.  5. Bloatedgallup.  6. Bloatedlimbaughs.

by TerraByte

Sep 24, 2005

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