Editorial: Lying liars and their constitutional right to keep on lying
Published in Op Eds
Long before his own #MeToo demise as a U.S. senator, satirst Al Franken wrote a shocking investigative exposé of politicians and pundits who — prepare yourself — don’t always tell the truth. The subtly titled book, “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them,” caused upheaval in Washington and led to a bipartisan national shakeup in politics. Politicians forever ended the practice of lying.
Oops. Correction: It actually got worse than ever, including the election of a president who reportedly lied more than 30,000 times in his single term.
Lying is not technically against the law, but it might be time for greater legislative clarity on the matter of deliberately deceiving the public for political or financial gain. Kansas City’s former communications director, Chris Hernandez, is suing his ex-employers, saying they demoted him when he refused to lie on behalf of City Manager Brian Platt. The city, which disputes the accusation, is arguing in court that, even if officials did lie, deliberately misleading the public isn’t illegal.
Increasingly across the country, the truth is on trial. The American public has been yanked so many different ways by falsehoods presented as fact that people simply don’t know whom to believe anymore. Millions bought the lie that coronavirus vaccines are part of a government plot. Millions more believe the 2020 presidential election was stolen. Similar lies were behind the hammer attack that hospitalized then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband. Falsehoods are hardly harmless. People can die.
Fox News is currently in court defending itself for having advanced the lie that Dominion Voting Systems helped rig the 2020 presidential election against President Donald Trump. Fox doesn’t deny the lies. Rather, it questions whether the lies caused actual harm.
Fox’s Tucker Carlson defended himself in a 2020 slander lawsuit by arguing that the things he says on television are clearly exaggerations and aren’t supposed to be believed by viewers. He won.
The big question hanging over Congress these days is whether Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., should be ousted over his serial lying to win election. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy says that he won’t fire Santos based on his massive biographical fraud. Rather, he’ll only be ousted if Santos’ lies broke the law.
Should lying be illegal? In 2005, Congress actually tried to criminalize lying about military service with the Stolen Valor Act. In 2012, the Justice Department tried to prosecute Xavier Alvarez for having claimed to be a Marine combat veteran and recipient of the Medal of Honor. The Supreme Court, however, sided with Alvarez. As frustrating and offensive as falsehoods might be, they are protected speech under the First Amendment, the court ruled.
Lies provoke outrage, for sure. But unless actual physical or financial harm can be proven, Americans will simply have to live with all these lying liars and the lies they tell.
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