Actually Al Franken was way ahead of me on this back in 2003 with his book “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them.” At that time, the realization that FOX News offered a product lacking in both news and truth had not fully registered with the viewing public and Franken was right to sound the alarm. Most of us would probably accept the premise that the contemporary or 21st century model of the big lie began with the WMD’s and then continued with lies about the lie about the WMD’s. Something of a crescendo was reached in the use of that type of big lie in 2007 when a New York Times/CBS News survey found that six years after the terror attacks of 9/11, “33 percent of all Americans, including 40 percent of Republicans and 27 percent of Democrats, say Saddam Hussein was personally involved.”
While a healthy suspicion of anything presented as fact may now be in the grain of American life, that doesn’t stop people from deploying lies or working around the clock to improve the design, distribution mechanism, and efficacy of lies. Just last week, lying was deployed in major news events right out in the open under the glare of bright lights. And while we feel more secure by having a wider range of information sources these days, this lying was still effective and got the job done in the moments during and just after its launch. Coming as it does years after we had our WMD balloon inflated and then popped, we might call this the new lying Super Lying.
The cruise ship Costa Concordia struck a rock on Saturday Jan. 14, and super lying by the captain and the company that operated the ship began so quickly that much of it was documented in the next day Sunday edition of the New York Times. Among the lies: That there were “conflicting reports about whether the ship was off course in reef-filled waters just miles from shore (yes, it was, and the captain steered the ship there) or whether an electrical failure had caused the crew to lose control (the “electrical failure” was the first lie the captain told to the passengers about their situation; the ship in fact had hole torn in its hull).
The ship’s Captain Schettino quickly told Italian television that the ship had hit a reef that was not on its navigation charts; he knew he had to get his cover story going early regardless of the improbability of an uncharted reef on modern maps aboard a giant cruise ship. Whether Schettino considered using “We were attacked by a sea monster!” is something we may never know. From that Sunday New York Times: “Gianni Onorato, the president of the Costa cruise company, a subsidiary of Carnival Cruise lines, said the ship had been sailing its “regularly scheduled itinerary” when it struck “a submerged rock.” Later in the same Sunday Times coverage, Cristiano de Musso, a cruise company spokesman, is quoted as saying that the ship had not deviated from the course it follows “52 times a year.”
At the time that both men made those statements they knew that the Costa Concordia was not keeling over in a spot found on its “regularly scheduled itinerary.” More nauseating was the clear revelation to terrified passengers that the crew had no idea what to do in an emergency, let alone an evacuation. According to one passenger, “There were not enough lifeboats. The pilots were not sailors, but waiters who had no idea how to maneuver and kept us turning in circles.” When you charge people money to ride out to sea on a cruise ship and then by clear implication of lifeboats and personnel indicate preparedness for emergency—and no one has actually trained—that’s not just a whopping super lie; that’s conspiracy.
Meanwhile, back at home… No single Republican front-runner has benefited more from media than Newt Gingrich; he loves media and it’s reasonable to say he wouldn’t be bothering us right now without it. Add up the hours he’s logged on Sunday news roundtables and the interviews he that gives freely because that big brain in his enlarged cranium tells him he’ll always come out on top. Now add to that the thousands of minutes Gingrich steals on TV by first making an outrageous statement, then standing behind it. Among those statements have been declarations that urban poor children don’t understand the idea of work, that disadvantaged children would benefit greatly by living in “Boys Town” type camps doing industrial labor, and that Mitt Romney is a liar: All statements unequivocally pertaining to issues of character.
Yet when Gingrich was questioned at a debate regarding his own character in requesting “open marriage” from an ex-wife, Gingrich leaned into his accuser and the cameras to launch his biggest super lie of the campaign thus far: That John King’s asking the character-related question was “close to despicable” (it certainly was not) and that Newt was “tired of the elite media protecting Barack Obama by attacking Republicans.” The same “elite media” so essential to Newt’s ascent. The audience stood on its feet to applaud, as they might at a Larry the Cable Guy comedy show.
Gingrich’s performance, for which he’d had plenty of time to rehearse, was noteworthy. He knew he couldn’t actually engage on a personal character question since the issues of his sequential marriages and lobbying fees refuse to go away. But Gingrich, as captain of his oft-grounded campaign, could deploy the super lie. He could turn in an Oscar-worthy acting job by pretending to be beleaguered by a media that lovingly laps up and broadcasts his every word. What he may not be able to do is keep avoiding those rocks that are so close to shore as he veers wildly into chilling waters.