When does political half-truth become a lie?

Posted Online: March 06, 2013, 11:18 am
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By John Donald O'Shea
"Administration officials are coming forward with a grim compendium of jobs to be lost, services to be denied or delayed, military defenses to be let down and important operations to be disrupted. Obama's new chief of staff, Denis McDonough, spoke of a 'devastating list of horribles.'" -- AP

With each passing day of the Obama presidency, I am become more disillusioned with what I regard as the administration's reckless disregard for the truth, and the mainstream media's willingness to repeat the administration's propaganda, without making a semblance of an effort to fact check.

The president daily ticks off a "parade of horribles" that will occur once the sequester goes into effect. An obsequious press uncritically repeats whatever he says.

It is perhaps time for every American to read Wm. L. Shirer's "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich." From 1925 to 1932, Shirer served as European correspondent for the Chicago Tribune. In 1937, Edward R. Murrow, CBS' European manager, hired Shirer as European Bureau chief. Shirer lived and worked in Germany from 1934 to 1940 (the years during which Hitler consolidated his power, raped Austria and Czechoslovakia, and started WWII) -- the years during which the German press was made politically clean -- politically correct.

Shirer writes, "To be an editor in the Third Reich one had to be, in the first place, politically and racially clean. The Reich Press Law of October 4, 1933, which made journalism a "public vocation," regulated by law, stipulated that all editors must possess German citizenship, be of Aryan descent and not be married to a Jew. Section 14 of the Press Law ordered editors "to keep out of the newspapers anything which in any manner is misleading to the public, mixes selfish aims with community aims, tends to weaken the will of the German Reich, outwardly or inwardly, the common will of the German people, the defense of Germany, its culture and economy ... or offends the honor and dignity of Germany ...."

Shirer goes on to describe the effectiveness of the law:

"I myself was to experience how easily one is taken in by a lying and censored press and radio in a totalitarian state. Though unlike most Germans I had daily access to foreign newspapers, especially those of London, Paris and Zurich ... and though I listened regularly to the BBC and other foreign broadcasts, my job necessitated the spending of many hours a day combing the German press, checking the German radio, conferring with Nazi officials and going to party meetings. It was surprising and sometimes consternating to find that notwithstanding the opportunities I had to learn the facts and despite one's inherent distrust of what one learned from Nazi sources, a steady diet over the years of falsification and distortions made a certain impression on one's mind and often misled it. No one who has not lived in a totalitarian land can possibly conceive how difficult it is to escape the dread consequences of a regime's calculated and incessant propaganda. Often in a German home or office, or sometimes in a casual conversation with a stranger in a restaurant, a beer hall, a cafe, I would meet with the most outlandish assertions from seemingly educated and intelligent persons. It was obvious that they were parroting some piece of nonsense they had heard on the radio or read in the newspapers. Sometimes one was tempted to say as much, but on such occasion one was met with such a stare of incredulity, such a shock of silence, as if one had blasphemed the Almighty, that one realized how useless it was to try and make contact with a mind which had become warped and for whom the facts of life had become what Hitler and Goebbels, with their cynical disregard for truth, said they were."

In America, we still have the First Amendment. But everyday advocates of political correctness, including administration officials, seek to stifle what they deem "politically incorrect," or "untruthful."

Recently, the administration in the stolen valor case, U. S. v. Alvarez, argued "that false statements have no value and hence no First Amendment protection."

Fortunately the court ruled against the government, but had the government prevailed, this government, which is already in the business of "redefining" what is and what isn't "religious activity," could quickly have gone into the business of defining what opposition statements are "false" so as to suppress them.

People who tell lies that are 100 percent false are almost always perceived to be liars. But the liar who skillfully weaves a fabric, by blending lies with truth,can dupe almost everybody. I do not believe that President Obama and his officials knowingly say things they know to be 100 percent false, but I do believe they operate on the principle that the "ends justify the means," and as such weave a blended fabric.

But there still is a problem. When the government, day after day, engages in hyperbole, exaggeration, and character assassination and mixes in a modicum of truth to give veracity to what otherwise could only be described as "untruthful," the government undermines the democratic process.

A majority fed a steady diet of half-truths can hardly be expected to make right and critical choices for the welfare of the nation. Shirer saw that first hand.

I suggest that where the government lies, and where the press repeats the lies, it makes little difference whether the press is controlled by law, or by its own pro-government bias.
John Donald O'Shea of Moline is a retired circuit court judge.


Local events heading

  Today is Tuesday, Oct. 21, the 294th day of 2014. There are 71 days left in the year.

1864 -- 150 years ago: The weather is discouraging for our great Democratic rally tomorrow, but never mind that. Let our Rock Island people show they can make a big procession themselves, rain or shine.
1889 -- 125 years ago: Apparatus arrived for drilling an artesian well on the premises of George Warner's Atlantic Brewery.
1914 -- 100 years ago: The German army continued its attacks on the allies line near the Belgian coast.
1939 -- 75 years ago: The farm home of Mr. and Mrs. Gus Zachert northwest of Buffalo Prairie, burned to the ground.
1964 -- 50 years ago: WVIK-FM, noncommercial educational radio station at Augustana College, will return to the air tomorrow. The station operates at a power of 10 watts at 90.9 megacycles on the frequency modulation band. The station is operated with a staff of 92 students.
1989 -- 25 years ago: An avenue of lights, 13 Christmas trees strung with more than 44,000 sparkling lights, will expand the Festival of Trees beyond the walls of RiverCenter in downtown Davenport in mid-November.

(More History)