Lying with impunity

Today’s general election is widely seen as one of the most momentous in recent history. Sadly, the behaviour of many politicians and activists has fallen short…

By James Evelegh

Lying with impunity
Photograph: Steve Houghton-Burnett on Unsplash

The Bagehot column in the current issue of The Economist is well worth a read. Entitled ‘Liar, liar’, it laments that “truth has been the first casualty of this election”.

“This election has been marinated in mendacity: big lies and small lies; quarter truths and pseudo-facts; distortion, dissembling and disinformation; and digital skulduggery on an industrial scale.”

“The Tories are probably the worst offenders and the Liberal Democrats probably the least… both main contenders have turned disinformation into an art.”

They are shameless: “They continue to repeat the same mendacious talking-points even if they have been revealed to be bogus.”

Bagehot goes on to list the reasons: new technology that facilitates the spread of disinformation, the character traits of the two main party leaders and the “triumph of political tribalism” where adherence to a cause trumps truth.

I would add another: politicians lie because they feel they can get away with it, that they know their bad behaviour will not be universally condemned.

Have some in the media been soft-pedalling on truth? A key part of the raison d'être of a free press is to hold power to account. Furthermore, professional ethics and codes of conduct are what supposedly separate professional publishers from the unregulated maelstrom online. This virtue is negated when some elements of the press get infected with tribalism too, when they back one political party over another and put the pursuit of that party’s victory over and above the requirements of objective reporting.

Western democracy is under great strain and society deeply divided. There are no easy solutions and the press alone can’t fix it. But newspapers still set the agenda and an unwavering adherence to the truth on its part and a calling out of all untruths irrespective of where they come from would be a good first step in the long march back to sanity.