Warm Southern Breeze

"… there is no such thing as nothing."

A Look at Job Creation -OR- How To Make Someone Say Anything… including the President

Posted by Warm Southern Breeze on Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Over the past couple of days, I’ve been thinking about truth, truth-telling, falsehoods, lying and other machinations of language by and through which we communicate.

Interestingly, I’ve also though of where those items may have intersections of law, law violation, duty, freedom, rights and civic responsibility.

As an illustration, or imaginary case in point, if a police officer asks you a question, a person is most often and typically required to tell the truth. That is, they are required to answer honestly. There are various penalties associated with lying to a Law Enforcement Officer (LEO), which vary state to state, and in various localities.

Here’s something more specific, however. Number one, you don’t have to talk. That’s guaranteed by our Fifth Amendment. And even if there is no possibility of self-incrimination (that is to say, you are not accused of any wrong doing), a person still has no legal requirement to speak.

However, if they do speak, they must be honest in their communication. In response to a similar question Attorney Peter Goldscheider wrote that, “You have no obligation to talk to the police or any law enforcement agency at any time or for any reason. Furthermore if it is a federal agent and you give a statement that is deemed to be false that is a crime itself.

But what if a police officer asks you what you had for lunch? If you choose to respond, are you required to tell the truth?

Bearing in mind that a person has no obligation to speak, if the question from the LEO or resulting conversation was not related to any investigation, or in any official capacity, if you chose to speak, it would be acceptable and perfectly legal to NOT tell the truth about what you consumed for lunch. Imagine it were as if it were a conversation among or between friends. There’s no compulsion to exercise or demonstrate honesty in such cases.

In more general terms, how about case if we tell the tell the truth, but purposely omit certain or select details? Could that be considered dishonesty, falsehood or lying?

Again, the circumstances dictate whether or not such omission is considered unprincipled, unethical or unscrupulous.

Here’s an example: Someone you know is a news reporter. That person is neither an intimate, nor long-time friend, but rather more like a casual acquaintance.

In casual conversation, your reporter friend asks you, “What’d you do last night?

Because you’re friendly, you decide to answer, and say that you went out to dine with your spouse at a fine restaurant, and afterward enjoyed a theatrical performance. You purposely omit the fact, that later upon your arrival home, you made passionate love.

Is that purposeful omission considered a falsehood, an attempt to deceive or mislead? You did, after all, truthfully answer the question, but omitted certain private details. Those omitted details are – for all practical intents – not germane to the subject at hand precisely because of the level of intimacy it reveals, and because of the character and tenor of the conversation – which is casual.

However, on the other hand, if a marriage or psychotherapist were to ask you the same question, and you were to answer similarly, would that purposeful omission of fact or detail be considered untruthful, deceptive, dishonest or less than forthright?

Again, context – the nature of the circumstances surrounding the question and response – is of paramount importance.

That’s but one reason why it’s considered unlawful to – as the classic example states – go into a crowded theater and yell “FIRE! FIRE! FIRE!” The purpose of such communication – if it is honest – is to purposely alarm people, and to save their lives by and through that process.

However, if there is no genuine alarm or jeopardy, and a person goes into a crowded theater and yells “FIRE! FIRE! FIRE!,” there will naturally be a commotion, but the people will become alarmed for no good – defined as honest – reason.

Similarly, if that same person in the theater begins whispering innuendo in a tone of voice just loud enough to be heard by surrounding patrons, it could reasonably be expected that a state or alarm and commotion could ensue – especially if that same person provides an example, by getting up and quickly walking out while so doing.

Again, context is of key importance in these cases and scenarios. It’s the same reason why, when we read a work of fiction, we know it’s not true, and when we read the news, we expect the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Perhaps you may recall the 1938 radio drama broadcast by Orson WellesThe Mercury Theatre on the Air of H.G. Wells’ classic science fiction work “War of the Worlds.”

Because of the way in which that dramatic work of fiction was performed, widespread panic ensued throughout the United States – literally, coast-to-coast – despite on-air and telephone attempts by Cleveland CBS affiliate host Jack Paar, and others throughout the nation, to calm them.

For years, we have inherently trusted news and reporters, and expected – even demanded – that they always tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

And of late – within the last 25 years, or so – Americans have slowly become increasingly skeptical of the culture and society surrounding news.

Why is that?

There is probably more than one reason, but there is definitely one damn good reason why.

News reporters and broadcasters were once required to tell the truth.

Now, they’re not.

It has come to be called “spin.”

Here’s an example of how Fox News – and they’re the ABSOLUTE worst to do it – “creatively” edits interviews to make folks say things they didn’t say… and they tell you that the person said something they didn’t say.

In other words, they lie.

Watch this video in the news story linked below to see the example.
Jon Stewart Skewers Fox News For Using Edited Obama Video To Criticize Immigration Policy
by Meenal Vamburkar | 11:43 pm, June 19th, 2012

In Canada – that land  of “liberal” bastion (not really, but that’s how some describe it) – there is a law against NOT telling the truth in news.

In our great United States, we once had a law very similar to that, and it was called the Fairness Doctrine.

The Fairness Doctrine was a policy of the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC), introduced in 1949, that required the holders of broadcast licenses to both present controversial issues of public importance and to do so in a manner that was, in the Commission’s view, honest, equitable and balanced.

You can probably guess what I’m about to write next.

It was Republicans that led the effort to eliminate that law, under the guise that it would create “a healthy climate for private investment and job creation.”

Mark S. Fowler, a Republican appointed by Ronald Reagan to head the FCC, claimed in a report he authored that the Fairness Doctrine hurt the public interest and violated free speech rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Interestingly, he also said that, “The television is just another appliance – it’s a toaster with pictures.”

Since 1969, and throughout the years, the Supreme Court upheld the law – in some cases unanimously – through there were numerous challenges to it. The court always held that free speech was NOT being violated.

Maybe I’m missing a part of the picture, but how does lying and not being held accountable for deliberately NOT telling the truth create “a healthy climate for private investment and job creation”?

Perhaps it’s time we returned to requiring accountability from the people who are – by FCC regulation – charged with operating in the public interest.

Perhaps it’s time we re-enacted the Fairness Doctrine.

After all, what’s wrong with accountability?

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