In 2004, when I came up in the field of communications, I was privileged to be taught by some of the best – both LCA reporters and former colleagues. And while I took away different lessons from different people, there was one maxim that was universally held – “don’t lie!”
To be clear, “don’t lie,” didn’t mean offer the complete utter truth all the time. It didn’t mean return every press call or for that matter answer every question (God forbid). What it did mean, or what it used to mean, is that if you lied, your credibility would be lost, shot, kaput and your ability to be effective with the press would be over.
In the wake of what I have seen over the past few years, culminating in this year’s presidential election, that essential lesson seems like a quaint and outdated ideal.
Over the past few weeks I can’t tell you the number of people, from the left and right, who have expressed their admiration for the job done by Kellyanne Conway, Jason Miller and much of the Trump press team. I have to admit their performance was intelligent, professional and stunningly effective – it also was often completely the opposite of what their candidate was saying. Everyday we were treated to the phrase “what he really means” as if somehow we were all profound idiots, unable to interpret the true meaning of a message usually less than 140 characters long.
Sadly the media, especially the television news ate it up allowing Conway and team to become the reassuring voice to the so-called establishment, while Trump continued to say whatever he wanted, when he wanted. It was a campaign waged in two different languages and by the end we were treated daily to two competing, yet strategically complimentary messages: the “what he said,” and then, the “what he really means.” If Dick Morris and Bill Clinton perfected the slick art of triangulation, Team Trump simplified it to a coarse duality.
To be clear, despite all the hand wringing, this phenomenon didn’t start with Donald Trump–he just took it to another level. The elected officials, the corporate mouthpieces, the NGO’s (who each year grow more brazen with their lies), and those in the fourth estate that invest credibility in the liars are all part and parcel of the problem.
Indeed, it seems voters have already grown immune to it. Having heard so much baloney over the years, they expect their politicians–including Trump–to lie. Much as Elena Gorokhova, wrote of her life growing up in the Soviet Union,“The rules are simple: they lie to us, we know they’re lying, they know we know they’re lying, but they keep lying to us, and we keep pretending to believe them.”
I don’t pretend to know the answer, but as the media soul searches for how to “cover President Trump,” they need to be looking a lot closer to home in the stories that get covered everyday.
The notion that we live in a #PostTruth world is disturbing. There are facts. There is in most things an objective reality and if we lose our hold on that, I fear for our politics and our society. More importantly and most troubling, it would come as no surprise that those who obtain great power, in-part through lies, are certainly capable of the perjury to sustain it.
Today, there are candidates and consultants, Democrats and Republicans alike emboldened by Trump’s victory asking the question: does the truth matter? I know one thing: once you abandon the truth your options are far greater and much easier. There is no need to be obtuse or clever, let alone endure – or worse, make others endure – the banality of being repetitive or mundane. Finally, there is no need to ask reporters to divine some measure of truth from what is carefully unspoken. There is no subtlety or nuance in the #PostTruth world – there is simply an ends and a means.