A lie by any other name …

One of these days, a bold newspaper may run a banner headline that says:

TRUMP TO TRUTH: DROP DEAD

It would delight or enrage readers, depending on political perspective, and set off endless rounds of debate in the media business about the propriety of publishing such a thunderbolt.

Old-timers in the news business, especially copy editors, would appreciate the adaptation of a famous 1975 New York Daily News headline to our current contentious political atmosphere. When President Gerald Ford refused to bail out New York City, which was on the verge of bankruptcy, the tabloid Daily News screamed:

FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD

Although the headline was not literally accurate – Ford didn’t say “drop dead” — it captured the essence of the Republican president’s conservative aversion to the city’s liberal spending ways. It also clearly conveyed to city leaders they would have to dig their way out of their mess, which they did. The headline stoked an emotional outcry and may have cost Ford the presidency in 1976.

As a longtime copy editor who wrote thousands of headlines, I appreciate how those five words cut through traditional journalistic caution. It smacked readers in the face with the harsh facts of life. To my mind, it spoke the truth.

Today, the nation’s newspapers and media outlets are wallowing in a paralysis of analysis as the president of the United States repeatedly makes baseless claims, repeats allegations proven to be false, denies photographic evidence and dismisses scientific findings.

Is it accurate and fair in some instances to call President Trump a “liar,” meaning that he makes a false statement with the intent to deceive? How can journalists know that? Aren’t they getting into editorializing and undermining their credibility?

On the other hand, if the president of the United States does intend to deceive the American people – which can raise frightening implications – newspapers and media outlets are derelict in their responsibility to inform the American people if they hide the truth in euphemisms.

If you want to know why the New York Times will go with the word “lie,” click here. For NPR’s more cautious stance, click here.

Personally, I would prefer that journalists not get hamstrung by excessive intellectual debate. Some things are hard to define but clearly apparent. As Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart   said in 1964 about hard-core pornography: “I know it when I see it.”

Life is a good teacher. I feel I am awash in a sea of lies.

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5 Responses to A lie by any other name …

  1. fred napolitano says:

    Sometimes some people prefer a lie rather than truth.

  2. Tom Quinn says:

    John Fugelsang nails it:
    Kasich says of Trump, “If you’re on a plane, you root for the pilot.” Okay, but what if it’s a hijacker?

  3. Tom Quinn says:

    Somebody recently said about Trump, “The man cannot string two coherent sentences together, without lying in both.” Somebody’s gotta be right.

  4. Susie Arinson says:

    It is gnawing to continually hear “fake news”in characterizing the media.

    It is so insulting to the news media, which has a policy to print fact only in news. There is the opinion page, which is dedicated to opinions of a variety of folks, from seasoned political journalists, to Joe Blow American.

    I am constantly insulted by this idiot who perceives everyone to be just like him, the biggest liar to ever serving as president.

    Get him. Out of here. Be it conflict of interest, mental illness, or treason. This guy has got to go before he deconstructs our entire democracy. Lying all the way!

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