Saturday, February 20, 2016

HAVE YOU EVER TOLD A LIE?

The Washington Post is emoting over an answer Hillary Clinton gave in an interview with CBS’s Scott Pelley. The pertinent line of questioning was:

PELLEY: You know, in ’76, Jimmy Carter famously said, “I will not lie to you.”

CLINTON: Well, I have to tell you I have tried in every way I know how literally from my years as a young lawyer all the way through my time as secretary of state to level with the American people.

PELLEY: You talk about leveling with the American people. Have you always told the truth?

CLINTON: I’ve always tried to. Always. Always.

PELLEY: Some people are gonna call that wiggle room that you just gave yourself.

CLINTON: Well, no, I’ve always tried —

PELLEY: I mean, Jimmy Carter said, “I will never lie to you.”

CLINTON: Well, but, you know, you’re asking me to say, “Have I ever?” I don’t believe I ever have. I don’t believe I ever have. I don’t believe I ever will. I’m gonna do the best I can to level with the American people.

The Post had this to say about Clinton’s answer:

I mean, what? W-H-A-T?  "I've always tried to" tell the truth?  On what planet is this a good answer for a politician?

The answer, of course, is on no planet. While I am less familiar with politics on Mars than I am with those on Earth, I am pretty sure that being unable to simply say, "Yes, I have always been truthful with the public," would be a problem on the Red Planet, too.

I don’t disagree that Clinton gave a bad answer, but Pelley asked a bad question. His question was basically, “Have you ever told a lie?” I really think such a question is impertinent and doesn’t deserve an answer. Not only is such a line of questioning impolite, it would be held inadmissible in a court of law. The law recognizes that nobody tells 100% of the truth 100% of the time. 

When Jimmy Carter flashed his toothy smile and famously said “I will not lie to you,” he was making a feel-good statement, but he was most likely lying. I remember a contemporary comedian paraphrasing Carter’s famous statement like this:

I’ll never tell a lie, and that’s the truth

For every time I lie, I grow another tooth.

What should Clinton have said in response to Pelley’s question “Have you always told the truth?” Maybe a Donald Trumpish “Have you?” might have been appropriate.

If it were proper for Pelley to ask such a question at all, he should have asked specific questions about specific issues, for example:

Q: Now, you’d agree with me that it’s wrong to mislead the American people, even if you are doing the misleading by making literally true statements which leave your hearers with a false impression?

Q: On the night of the Benghazi attack didn’t you email your daughter, and I quote “Two of our officers were killed in Benghazi by an Al Queda-like group”?

Q: After sending that email, when making a public statement about the Benghazi attack, didn’t you say: “Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet. The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind”?

Q: Please explain to me how that statement wasn’t an effort to mislead the American people into thinking that terrorism had nothing to do with the Benghazi attack?

Q: Later, when speaking of the Benghazi attack, didn’t you say “We’ve seen the heavy assault on our post in Benghazi that took the lives of those brave men. We’ve seen rage and violence directed at American embassies over an awful internet video that we had nothing to do with”?

Q: Please explain to me how putting those two sentences together wasn’t an effort to mislead the American people into thinking that terrorism had nothing to do with the Benghazi attack?
Oddly enough, the Washington Post, in an article entitled "Is Hillary Clinton a 'Liar' on Benghazi?" looked into these statements by Clinton a while back and decided that they were not lies. Instead, the Post found them to be artfully stated truth.

Here's what the Post said:

Looking at Clinton’s public statements, it is clear she was very careful to keep the attacks separate from the video; the two incidents do not appear in the same sentence (unlike the controversial televised remarks by then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice).

For instance, in her Sept. 14 remarks, Clinton devotes one sentence to the “heavy assault” in Benghazi and then another sentence about the “rage and violence” over the “awful Internet video.” She does not say they are connected, although listeners may have gotten that impression.

According to the Post, Clinton wasn't "lying" because she put Benghazi in one sentence and the rage over the video in another. Listeners just got the impression that the video triggered the attack because the two sentences were together.

Now I ask the Post, "Why do you think Clinton put those two sentences together?" If she did it once, maybe it was happenstance. But she did it repeatedly. It sure looks to me like she wanted the American people to mishear what she said and believe that terrorism had nothing to do with the attack on Benghazi.

Hillary's thinking seems to me to be like the boy whose mother told him not to shoot the beautiful fox squirrel in the front yard. "But mom," he protested,  "I didn't shoot the fox squirrel in the front yard." And it was perfectly true. He chased the fox squirrel across the road and shot it in the pasture.

The Post seems to me to be straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel to bash Clinton for what she said in the Pelley interview and defend her for what she said about Benghazi. Apparently the Post thinks that literally true but misleading statements are not lies. Maybe they're not, but they're not the kind of statements that should be made by someone who says "I'm gonna do the best I can to level with the American people."