Wednesday, January 23, 2008

presidential prevarications

A year ago The Atlantic printed an article by Carl M. Cannon, Untruth and Consequences, detailing presidential lies over the years. He says "Presidents prevaricate for the reasons other people do: pathology, politeness, paternalism, convenience, shame, self-promotion, insecurity, ego, narcissism, and even, on occasion, to further a noble goal," and he tells of Franklin Roosevelt's deception about the state of his health, quotes Churchill to Stalin: “In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies,” and gives the following marvelous Lincoln anecdote:
Abraham Lincoln was said to have walked miles as an Illinois store clerk to return a few cents’ change. His “Honest Abe” nickname, which predated his presidency, was an advantage that his opponent Stephen Douglas tried to erase by calling him “two-faced.” (Lincoln’s response: “I leave it to [my audience]. If I had another face, do you think I’d wear this one?”)

{source: the Cannon article in the Atlantic}

Not long ago I did a post on the Watergate tapes and mentioned my evolving disillusionment about government truthfulness. Cannon recalls a couple of the incidents that brought about this loss of faith: Nixon's Watergate lies and the revelations in the tapes including Lyndon Johnson's admission to Robert McNamara that the Gulf of Tonkin incident was fabricated. He says,
By 1975, the year Saigon fell, 69 percent of Americans answered affirmatively to a poll question asking whether “over the last ten years this country’s leaders have consistently lied to the people.”
It's easy to find Presidents' lies on the internet. Just a few here:
"The world will note that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a military base. That was because we wished in this first attack to avoid, insofar as possible, the killing of civilians."

"We did not--repeat, did not--trade weapons or anything else for hostages, nor will we"

"I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky."

"We are now threatened with a missile gap that leaves us in a position of potentially grave danger."

It's normal for full details of this mis-leadership by US administrations to appear long after the occasion for the lies. So it's no surprise that now, so many years afterwards, the press is giving extensive coverage to a study showing that the present administration put out hundreds of them during the months preceding the US attack on Iraq. Here's a link to the AP story:
Study: False statements preceded war by Douglass K. Daniel.


A study by two nonprofit journalism organizations ... concluded that the statements "were part of an orchestrated campaign that effectively galvanized public opinion and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses."

The study counted 935 false statements in the two-year period. It found that in speeches, briefings, interviews and other venues, Bush and administration officials stated unequivocally on at least 532 occasions that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or was trying to produce or obtain them or had links to al-Qaida or both.

"The cumulative effect of these false statements — amplified by thousands of news stories and broadcasts — was massive, with the media coverage creating an almost impenetrable din for several critical months in the run-up to war," the study concluded.

{AP Photo}

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