Truth, Lies, and Other Unknowables

As I’ve discussed and raged about, it is official @NPR policy to never use the word “lie.” They defend this pusillanimous position by carefully choosing the one definition of the word that requires knowledge of the intent of the speaker, an impossibly high bar achievable only through omniscient narration or telepathy.

Strangely they apply this standard to political statements unevenly. NPR reporters assume knowledge of intent every day, but as long as they don’t call out lies it goes unremarked by seemingly everyone but me. A perfect example is the “he said” part of Scott Detrow’s inevitable “he said, she said” segment on today’s Weekend Edition: that “Republicans see character assassination” in the treatment of Mark “Boof-man” Kavanaugh by Democrats.

How Detrow’s description violates the silly lie policy seems subtle at first, but once you recognize it you’ll hear it constantly. Note Detrow takes at face value the things Republicans said (and screamed) about the claims against Barf Kavanaugh. But how can he know they are sincere? Isn’t it much more likely that some or all of the Republican senators believe Blasey Ford’s testimony and are feigning outrage for naked political purposes? Detrow’s phrasing precludes that possibility, making Detrow himself seem impossibly naive for a political reporter.

The fix is simple: he can simply add a qualifying verb such as “said” or “claimed.” Doesn’t “Republicans claimed to see character assassination” comport with reality so much better? Better still would be a little context for the claim, such as “Republicans said they saw character assassination even as they also said they found Blasey Ford’s testimony credible.”

I loathe NPR’s lie policy, but if they’re going to make mind-reading a criterion for word choice about speaker intent they should be consistent.

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