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Tag: deceit

Soundbite-sized Lies

by on Mar.07, 2009, under Faith in the Public Square

Increasingly it seems as if both sides of the political spectrum are adopting the Al Davis / Oakland Raiders mantra – Just Win Baby – as a guiding principle. Win, what ever it takes. Ruining a reputation is no problem, not if it leads to political victory. In this world, twisting words is a legitimate tactic even if it results in a new meaning that is 180 degrees opposite of what the speaker actually said and meant. After all, it’s all about winning.

In the world of politics, professional image makers manipulators are perfecting the soundbite-sized lie. They extract words from their proper context to paint an entirely false and deceiving picture. They’re unconcerned with the collateral damage they cause. Not if their tactics score a jump in the polls for their candidate or position.

Truth is never advanced through falsehoods. That fact should be especially apparent to people of faith who follow the One who said: I am the Truth. When people of faith engage arguments in the public square some tactics are off limits. Because when we knowingly craft soundbites into enticingly attractive – but false – arguments, we damage our integrity. And we discredit the One who has called us to be salt and light to the world. Lies are not legitimate weapons in the battle for truth. Period.

Here’s an example of what I mean. In the 2008 presidential campaign ABC’s Charles Gibson interviewed Sarah Palin and asked her this question: “You said recently, in your old church, ‘Our national leaders are sending U.S. soldiers on a task that is from God.’ Are we fighting a holy war?” Palin responded by saying, “You know, I don’t know if that was my exact quote.” Gibson came right back by saying they were her “exact words.” So, what’s true here?

The truth is that Gibson was factually accurate in saying that Palin spoke those words. But in making his assertion he was, at the same time, acting either out of ignorance or with deliberate intent to deceive. Because Palin’s words were clearly separated from their intended meaning. Judge for yourself. Here are Palin’s words taken in context. “Pray for our military men and women who are striving to do what is right. Also, for this country, that our leaders, our national leaders, are sending U.S. soldiers out on a task that is from God.”

Breakdown those two sentences and you will find a two-part prayer request:  First, pray for our men and women who are striving to do what is right and, second, pray that our national leaders are sending U.S. soldiers out on a task that is from God. This prayer request paints a far different picture of what Palin actually said than the words put in her mouth by an argumentative interviewer. But, hey, it’s all about winning, right? No! Not if we are acting with integrity.

Radio talkshow hosts often play a similar version of the game themselves by constantly replaying “gotcha quotes” they think will drive their ratings or favor their positions. And if truth gets misplaced in the process, so what? It’s a small price to pay, or so it seems. How unfortunate and dishonest this game is regardless of the players involved.

You see, it is quite possible to be factually accurate while at the same time being deliberately deceitful. Soundbite-sized lies are not the truth, they are distortions. People of faith have no business operating in that arena. Because compromising truth for temporary gains is no victory at all.

Before leaving this post here’s a final application, this time a personal and not political one, because all of us can be tempted to “color the truth” for our own advantage. Years ago I was late for a meeting because I carelessly lost track of time. En route I passed a checkpoint on Interstate 5 in northern San Diego county. Usually the checkpoint was a traffic bottleneck that added about 10 minutes to the trip but at the time I passed that day it was closed. When I finally arrived for the meeting I could have commented innocently, “Sorry to be late but the checkpoint traffic was not what I expected it to be.” It would have helped me cover being tardy. It would have been factually accurate. But it would have been deliberately deceitful. And my integrity would have been compromised.

If the truth is always our ally we have little to fear and we’re in exactly the right place. In politics and in our personal conduct.

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