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Jewish World Review Feb. 27, 2002 / 16 Adar, 5762

Lenore Skenazy

Skenazy
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Consumer Reports


Sometimes, lying's the best policy


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com -- NOW here's something shocking: The government has been considering a campaign of disinformation. How new is that? Even the word "disinformation" reeks of disinformation. The real word is "lies."

Whether to spread them in the name of peace and security is what the brass at the Pentagon have been mulling lately, at least until President Bush expressed doubts about the plan. But he shouldn't. I say, more power to them.

It makes a ton of sense to spread lie - er, disinformation - if it involves, say, battle plans or troop movements or where precisely our soldiers are hiding.

"Rumsfeld reveals Special Forces holed up in third cave to the left of Osama. Pre-dawn raid planned. Surprise is key."

That kind of press just doesn't get us where we want to go, victory-wise.

So fine. Let 'em lie. But what's with this public announcement? Why are they blabbing about their plan to fib? Do I tell my mom, "Hey, Mom, I just told you I was safe at home and that 'whooshing' sound was the dryer, but really I'm on a cell phone going 75 on a motorcycle with some guy I just met at a Hells Angels convention. And boy is he drunk!"

No, the whole point of lying is to carry it off. Create a false impression. Pull wool. And that's something you just can't do if you announce, "The following is a false political announcement."

Still, you can't really blame the Pentagon for putting its cards on the table, considering the awful embarrassment (and, often, pesky impeachment proceedings) that have afflicted those government officials caught lying without a wink-wink, nudge-nudge first.

"I did not have sexual relations with that woman," comes to mind not only because it was a) so juicy b) so recent c) the best thing that ever happened to the GOP, but because by continuing with the words, "Miss Lewinsky," then-President Bill Clinton implied a distance that was falser than false. Like maybe he'd been introduced to Miss L. at a big intern brunch or something, but he never quite caught her first name. The lying-ness of that lie is what made it so memorable.

Now if instead he'd said, "Here's my plan: I'm going to deny my ridiculous fling with Monica with the following lie: 'I did not have relations ...'" maybe Al Gore would be President today.

Likewise, if only Richard Nixon had told The Washington Post: "Well, maybe there was a break-in, and maybe I ordered it. But I'm going to deny it, so don't be shocked."

Where's the Pulitzer in that? It's a snore of a story! Watergate becomes a footnote, and it's another 20 years before late-night comedians feel free to start poking fun at national leaders.

Obviously, lying is to government officials what breathing is to fish: Something we know they're doing, but it's hard to see unless we're lucky enough to catch them. Then they start thrashing around.

And we fry 'em.

I'd prefer my elected officials to tell the truth, but I'd prefer the folks at the Pentagon to win the war on terrorism. Spreading lies disguised as truth and truth disguised as lies does not seem the most obvious way to go about that.

But maybe it's just confusing enough to get the job done.



JWR contributor Lenore Skenazy is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.

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