“A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”
– Winston Churchill
Why is this so true? Consider that a lie requires only imagination and isn’t held back by that pesky thing called honesty. No need to let facts ruin a good story, eh?
Telling an intentional lie is the lowest of societal lows, and I would venture to say that there is always an ulterior motive behind such a lie. If one’s eyes and mind are open, the reason behind the deception is usually very easy to identify.
Accidental lies, though less egregious, are still offensive. Whether due to misseducation, misunderstanding, misconception, or miscommunication, a lie-teller always misses the point. Let no one deny that anyone who communicates anything bears the ultimate responsibility for either ensuring the veracity of the information before passing it on or, if it’s not true, for at least making sure that they do not share it with anyone else. (Bonus points to anyone who, after hearing a lie, follows up and confronts the person or source they heard it from.)
Of course, the media has a significant share of responsibility for the ease that lies have in getting around the world. The media promotes lies because it loves controversy, and nothing creates tension and conflict and sells newspapers or commercials like a sensationalized story that plays on emotions. If I had a dime for every time a reporter told me that their facts were wrong because they “didn’t have the time” to check them, I would be living comfortably on a private island instead of writing this blog during a snowfall. It’s truly unfortunate that priorities are this skewed.
Lastly, and even more prevalent now with the increased role of social media and the ease of sharing information, the public has a responsibility for the lies it consumes. We eat this stuff up and, given the sick joy we seem to get from the lies told about others, we are always hungry for the next meal.
Why are so few people taking concrete action to stop lies dead in their tracks? Worse, why are so many groups so eager to help lies get farther, faster?
The inspiration for this blog post came from recent news stories. While in Toronto for a race, monitors in the Toronto subway system shared a “news” report entitled: “Israeli spy device found: Hezbollah.” Really? Reading up on the story online later in the day, Yahoo! News reports that “the device exploded, apparently detonated remotely by the Israelis, Hezbollah said in a statement.”
Simple, basic critical thinking should raise some puzzling questions about this statement. To recap, the device “exploded”, so they never got a chance to study it, so how do they know that it was a spy device and not, say, a bomb? How do they know this “spy device” was Israeli? On what basis can they claim that it was “detonated remotely by the Israelis?”
In reality, there is no such proof, but hey, who needs proof when your aim is to villify your neighbour? Who needs proof when the media just reprints what you tell them to without questioning anything? Who needs proof when the readers believe a sensational headline? When they don’t probe?
Demand proof! If there is no proof, the accusation should never be printed. And if it is printed without proof, don’t believe it! They are counting on people to be stupid pawns in their public relations war. They are counting on their lies creating hatred and animosity towards the only state in the middle east that actually believes in democracy and abides by the rule of law. Don’t let lies create enemies. Stand up for peace!
Even if one stipulates that it *was* a spy device (since no one can prove it with certainty), anyone who has followed middle Eastern news knows that there are other groups who might reasonably be interested in learning more about the goings on (read: spying) in Lebanon. Hezbollah and the Lebanese government don’t always see eye-to-eye, Lebanon and Syria don’t exactly have a relationship based on trust, and the assassination of Rafik Hariri in 2005 exposed major conflicts in the country. Currently, the United Nations is in the middle of a special investigation into Hariri’s assassination and the theories of the killing (and who is responsible) center around telecommunications equipment, just like the system that the device was allegedly “spying” on.
What happened to real investigative journalism? It seems that like many people in many professions, it’s easier to just “mail it in”, that is, satisfy the bare minimum requirements without doing what we know needs to be done in order to submit quality work.
In response to a Montreal Gazette article entitled “Want fast care? Slip an MD some cash”, Dr. Markus Martin, MD at the Jewish General Hospital, asks “why doesn’t The Gazette try something more challenging, something that involves real reporting and real research and not just innuendo?” The Gazette will undoubtedly respond that they seeked out a “high-ranking physician” as a source. I argue that a single source making an anonymous accusation is not nearly enough to justify the magnitude of the negative impacts on thousands of doctors and on the confidence of millions of patients.
Dr. Martin ends his letter by inviting the Gazette to interview every obstetrics patient of his for the last 10 years in order to “ask if [he] ever accepted cash” in exchange for preferential medical treatment. Dr. Martin suggests that, upon completion of these interviews, the Gazette “will quickly ascertain how scurrilous and hurtful [their] inaccurate insinuations are.” Unfortunately for those who value truth, scurrilous, hurtful, and inaccurate insinuations sell papers much more effectively than the truth.
Some journalists, and the media outlets that support them, are complicit with those whose goal it is to promote their selfish (and possibly destructive) goals at the expense of truth. They know that the truth will earn them condemnation, not support, and they can’t let that happen. These lies, unchecked, will stand in the way of the realization of society’s best interests.
Worse, lies are standing in the way of peace in many regions of the world. We have a choice. We can either let lies stand in the way, or we can stand up to them in order to stand up for what we all know is right. Instead of turning a blind eye, when confronted with a lie, challenge yourself to help the truth get its pants on quickly.