There's a lot of confusion about the best way to respond to a lie spoken in a public context. One strategy is to ignore it and act as if the statement was never made. I guess folks who take this tack hope they'll avoid giving a false statement any traction. A second response is to suggest that the person making the statement probably didn't realize what he or she was saying. This approach presumes that its always best to give someone the benefit of the doubt and presume there's just a misunderstanding on their part. I don't think so. From my standpoint, the most effective response to a lie is to name it, frame it, and claim it.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
If I think someone is lying -- that is, deliberating making a statement they know to be false, I'll say that out loud: "That's a lie." Or, "Wow, another whopper." Yes, I'm giving visibility to the statement, but, from my standpoint, I'd rather the statement be labeled as a lie than allowed to stand unchallenged.
That's not enough. It is important to say why I think the statement is a lie and to suggest what the motive of the liar might be. I call this framing. Motive is important. If I can't think of any reason the person making the statement might have for misrepresenting the truth, then I might chalk their statement up to ignorance or reckless disregard for the truth. So, for me to call something I lie, I have to believe that the person making the statement has a motive for misrepresenting the truth. I link my characterization of their motive with the evidence that ought to convince any neutral observer that their statement is untrue. "That's a lie. That's not what it says on page 1014. They are obviously are trying to make the President look bad." Or, "No, that's not what happened on that date. They obviously would rather have us believe something that casts them in a better light. Here's reliable information to the contrary."
Finally, I think it is important to "own" my claim that their statement is a lie. That means, I need to be confrontable. If I'm going to call someone a lier, I ought to do it in a very public way -- to their face, if possible. I'm certainly not going to do it anonymously. The credibility of my characterization of their motive hinges, in part, on my willingness to stand behind my charge. "That's a lie. She is just trying to gain publicity for herself and play to her constituency. The bill doesn't say that at all. In fact, here's what it says. I'd love a chance to meet with her and have her show me exactly where it says what she claims."
Name it as a lie. Frame it by postulating the lier's motive and offering evidence to the contrary (that any neutral observer would accept). And, claim responsibility for your counter-charge.
If someone else has a different view of how to respond to a lie, I'd love to hear it.