Of journos and politicos

I’m becoming increasingly disturbed by the over use of a particular word. Can you guess what it is? I’ll give you a hint. The major news story is about the relationships between politicians, experts, and the media.

The word is of course liar.

What is disturbing about the use of this word? Well in many cases it is used wrongly, which leads to two conclusions. One is that society is dumbing down and doesn’t know what is and isn’t a lie. The other is that accusations and allegations are clouding the processes of seeking the truth.

So what is and isn’t a liar. Well it’s someone who habitually tells lies, and has told lies. Sorry that wasn’t helpful was it? OK then what is a lie. It is a false statement deliberately passed off as the truth. What isn’t a lie? Any statement that is factually correct, for a start or any falsehood that is an obvious falsehood (ie anything said sarcastically is not a lie), or any false statement that is believed to be true by the person who makes it. That is not to say if what you are saying is true you are not being dishonest. Just that if something is misleading, it is not necessarily dishonest, and if something is dishonest it is not necessarily a lie.

Recently it appears that the word lie has been redefined to mean any false or misleading statement, whether made intentionally or not. People are becoming, quite justifiably, tired of hype and spin, where the most positive slant is put over everything. However what they are not justified in doing is labelling any item of spin a lie. The facts may be dressed up in positive language, but providing that is all that happens, no lie has been uttered.

The most recent case is that of BBC news correspondent Andrew Gilligan He is being accused of telling lies right left and centre.

What did he say? He reported that an unnamed expert, who we now know to be Dr David Kelly, had told him that he and other Intelligence experts had been unhappy with what is now known as the “Dodgy Dossier” and that this source had also believed that spin-doctor Alistair Campbell had a hand in the sexing up of the document. Did he present the opinions as his own? No. Did he present the opinions as substantiated fact? No.

Now if Andrew Gilligan was telling lies, it would be the case that Dr Kelly had not held these views, or shared them with him. The evidence as presented is that Dr Kelly did believe these things to be true, and there were other officials similarly concerned. Dr Kelly may have been telling lies if he knew for certain that what he was telling Andrew Gilligan was untrue, or even framed his suspicions as solid fact rather than suspicions. However so far it appears he didn’t, so he isn’t a liar, and neither is Andrew Gilligan.

Alistair Campbell… the jury is out. He may or may not be telling the truth. I am not willing to misuse such powerful words in the way he does without proof.

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