There is a dangerous form of political lying where the aim is not to have the lie believed but for it, corrections of it and discussion about it. This post is about the art and power of the lie, it isn't meant to reopen Brexit discussions but be a warning for future cases.
We need to recognise that in a world where everyone is seen as liars that there is no longer shame in lies. We need to fear the world where the middle ground between groups is seen as truly moderate or the location of truth especially when one or more sides are extreme.
Why the Brexit Bus slogans were a success
- They weren't a complete lie, there was a gain of truth in a bucket of deceit as it did represent the amount that would go to the EU if the UK didn't receive a rebate.
- "Balance" meant the media felt it had to find something the Remain campaign had said that wasn't 100% accurate to report along side it, even though it wasn't the central message on the side of the campaign bus in 6ft high letters.
- If you aren't used to government spending and how it compares to actual NHS spending it sounds like a lot of money. And even the corrected to post-rebate figures it still sounds like a lot of money. Creating these discussions about whether it is £170 million or £350 million per week was a victory for the Brexit campaign.
- Hundreds of millions is the most that people can really picture and in some ways sounds more impressive than £18.2 billion. Making it a weekly or daily figure made it more effective than just giving the annual total (£18.2 billion is £350million times 52).
- The secondary point that the money "could" be spent on the NHS creates at least three additional points of debate to take up airtime. Firstly that the Brexit side can't have any power over that, secondly what else it might be spent on (this brings the assumption at least for the argument that the money could exist) and finally whether it is what any particular politician would spend the money on.
The bus in £50m per day form.
TrumpI feel the Trump statements about Mexican criminals are a very similar case although it may have been less calculated. The response to a claim that most were criminal the media then reported the inaccuracy by providing data on the numbers that do commit crime which while provably not "most" (a very long way from it) may be a big enough number that persuadable voters still get the impression that many are. The existence of a discussion of the number of illegal immigrant criminals is a victory for the anti-immigrant candidate, the more air time it takes the less other stories get, healthcare.
While I recognise the effect and the nature of these lies I don't know what the response should be, either from the media or the opposition. The left I feel is mostly too honest to practice this trick and different wings within the left would attack each other if they used it. I think the best that they can do is to put pressure on the media not to spend more time than absolutely necessary covering the issue.
The media is the part with the power, they need to get better and resisting the manufactured story, quickly point out that the information is incorrect and move on rather than getting rounds of pundits to discuss exactly how it is wrong. If one side to an argument is lying more than another then they must say so.
Interviewers and presenters have to feel confident to call out lies the very sentence after they they have been uttered, and not feel the need to give a right of reply. Only that way will politicians avoid the lies during discussions. As it is it seems that if they put at least two lies in a sentence one, if not both will go unchallenged.
Watch and Be Aware
Vigilance to lies and deliberate deceit is all we can really do but unfortunately they are effective.