Lies. Truth. And Shoes
Every once in a while, someone will stop me in a mall and say: “Your face looks familiar, are you that person who used to work on TV.” It’s not a silly question. I did once, a long time ago, but if I am in a hurry I’ll look that person directly in the eye and say: “Maybe you have me mistaken for someone else.”
I would be lying if I said that sometimes concealment does not sometimes work in my favour like when I don’t want to engage in conversation with a perfect stranger or when I walk into the house with yet another pair of black shoes and my husband asks me what I’ve got. “Oh something cute to wear,” I’d say when I don’t want to admit I’ve been seduced by another pair of black shoes to add to a closet already filled with over 15 pairs.
I think in all of us there lies some capacity for deception. We may make serious efforts to overcome any biases when we recall a certain situation but the fact that we love stories and tell them a lot means that they can become tainted with our embellishments or even what we deliberately leave out. Our memories can also be faulty and it is sometimes impossible to get every fact correct when recalling something.
But I think our capacity and love for story telling also makes us the best lie detectors. We can sniff out lies, falsehoods and half truths like we do a rotting piece of vegetable in a fridge. It also allows us to value honesty especially when it comes from the most unexpected places.
That’s why the business of politics is just so strange to me. The spinners lie constantly. They lie with a straight face. They lie sentence after sentence, relentlessly.
They are the masters at taking a story, emphasizing certain facts and linking them together in ways that play to their advantage. They’ll downplay or ignore inconvenient facts. They’ll interpret the known facts in a way that allows them to portray their position in a positive light. The basic story being told is always distorted.
Some people will suspend disbelief and just believe all of the spin. But I think the majority of us lie detectors can see right through it. Moreover in a constantly switched on media it is inevitable that it all begins to unravel. Ask George Bush. Ask Tiger Woods. Ask Reshmi Ramnarine.
This brings me to the huge opportunities I think that exist for media take on spin from all quarters and throw it back in the face of the spinner. Show the spinners video of themselves from last week and ask them to respond. Journalists need to continue to press with the open ended questions, asking them in many different ways while looking for the non-verbal cues: laugh, voice, posture. And when the spinners ask that the reporters move on from the story, they should be ignored.
And for Public Relations? Front groups should not be used to cover up or to lie. Biased research surveys should not purport to be factual representation of the views of the public. Communications campaigns that say one thing and mean another should be considered duplicitous.
Why does this truth seeking and telling matter? Well for one trust accelerates the way business is done and while deception always makes the gears sticky. Secondly, it sets a standard for a country to navigate itself in a global village. Finally, it matters because we are not just talking about a pair of shoes.