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97: Political lies

A Thousand Things to Talk About
A Thousand Things to Talk About
97: Political lies
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Politics is always about lying, but you’re not crazy if you think the lies are getting bigger and more frequent. (Salon)
Why do politicians get away with lying? (CNN)
Why Leaders Lie: The Truth About Lying in International Politics (Amazon)
Politicians lie? Actually, we’re all pretty good at it by age 5. (Washington Post)


Full episode text

It seems like a truism – that all politicians lie. Yet in the current political season, there’s a sense that lies are coming much more quickly, and in a much larger scale. In an interview with Salon, one historian points to chasing the headlines mentality as a big reason that lies actually are getting statistically bigger. On CNN, another author points to the internet’s “enabling of outlandish claims” by creating support for those claims almost immediately.

In some way, shape, or form, everyone has told a lie at some point. In the book Why Leaders Lie, author John Mearsheimer outlines that leaders in democratic societies are actually much more likely to lie to their constituents, because there is more at stake. Autocratic leaders are more likely to tell the truth, because they do not necessarily need to fear losing their position over a lie being revealed.

Politicians, however, aren’t the only ones to lie. One researcher who has extensively studied children and lying finds that up to 90 percent of all children lie by the age of 5 or 6. A 1996 study found that for adults, it’s average is about once in every 5 conversations. We are explicitly trained to and rewarded for telling white lies, such as, “I love this gift!” When you actually don’t.

So should a history of lying actually play a part in politics? It’s debatable – because we all lie, and politicians all demonstrably lie, but a history of lying in any situation makes trust very, very difficult. And in politics trust is the name of the game.