You’ll have heard the speech by now. Barack Obama yesterday addressed a large crowd and said that McCain was
Going to try and make you scared of me. [polite applause]
You know, “He’s not patriotic enough.” [polite applause]
“He’s got a funny name.” [polite applause]
You know, “He doesn’t look like all those other presidents on those dollars bills.” [loud, sustained applause, accompanied by hooting and, yes, hollering]
Presidents? Well, never mind that. What’s more interesting is that journalists heard the cheering and knew what it meant, which forced an Obama campaign spokesman to say that
What Barack Obama was talking about was that he didn’t get here after spending decades in Washington.
A complete, bald-faced lie, of course. Washington—George, that is—did not “spend decades in Washington” yet managed to get his mug on a bill. Grant, neither. Nor Andrew Jackson. Lincoln? Ah, well.
Thus, the spokesman said a lie, but not just an ordinary lie, a ridiculously laughable lie. But, given that it came from a “spokesman”, this is still not unusual.
What I want to know is why journalists never actually accuse liars of lying. The “L” word is never heard or seen in the media. Possibly this is because, once you bring out the big gun, it’s hard to put it away. Accuse one politician of lying, and you’d have to, if you were honest, accuse others, perhaps your favorite, too.
The word “liar” is still potent, it still has it’s original meaning and cannot (yet) be used ironically. People still fear this word. Nobody wants to be called one. Because of this fear, euphemisms abound. Politicians don’t lie, they spin. Spokesmen do not lie, the utter words that are at variance with the truth. It depends on what the meaning of is is, and so on.
If you’re a journalist and you call somebody a liar, you had better be prepared for a return of the favor. Before using this devastating word, you best be sure your house is clean. I thus suspect it is a lack of clear consciences that accounts for some the sparsity of the “L” word.
Calling somebody a liar is a hostile act, and it’s hard to remain friends with a person after you do. Journalist of course crave access to politicians, and do much to obtain it. Shouting, in print, liar! will almost certainly lose them the access they had, or lessen the chance that they will gain access to new politicians. Thus, personal ambition accounts for the lack of the word.
What is strange is that journalists desire access to politicians who lie to them since they purported desire is to report the truth.