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Leonard Pitts: Abundance of lies, shortage of truth

“Be careful what you do, ’cause the lie becomes the truth.”
ó Michael Jackson
For the record: Sarah Palin did not call dinosaurs “lizards of Satan.” Barack Obama is not a Muslim. That list of books Palin supposedly wants to ban is a fake. Obama doesn’t refuse to say the Pledge of Allegiance. The picture of Palin wearing a flag bikini and hefting a gun is a fraud. Obama is, too, a U.S. citizen. Palin doesn’t want Alaska to secede.
These and other rumors are, of course, busily bouncing all over the Internet. I dispute them only for the aforementioned record and not from any expectation that doing so will make the slightest bit of difference to the willingness of people to believe whatever they want. I just need to hear truth spoken aloud, need to be able to testify to future generations that it was stated in black and white somewhere in the midst of the maelstrom of mendacity, of lies and damned lies, that now dominates the political debate.
May I share with you the one that sent me over the top? It purports to be a column by Maureen Dowd raising questions about Obama’s Internet fundraising. But reading it, I knew immediately it wasn’t Dowd; the leaden, pedestrian prose sounded nothing like the New York Times’ breezy doyenne of derision. Two computer searches confirmed my suspicion: The column was a lie with Dowd’s name on it.
The brazenness of it struck me. That, and a self-preservationist streak which said, if they can do it to her, they can do it to me.
Maybe you’re wondering what’s the fuss. Politics and lies, after all, go together like carrion and flies and this year is no different. Palin’s claim that she told Congress “thanks but no thanks” on that “bridge to nowhere”? Not quite true. Obama’s claim that he co-authored a bill to help homeowners threatened by foreclosure? Fudged.
Still, there’s something new at work here. After all, this stuff used to be the exclusive province of political operatives; we the people were content to leave lying to the professionals. These days, shadowy groups and shadowier individuals are in the thick of it. The Internet has made it ridiculously easy; you can sabotage a campaign without ever changing out of your PJs. And the swift boat campaign of 2004 showed the potential: John Kerry’s bid for the presidency was fatally wounded by unfounded questions regarding his heroism in Vietnam.
Over the last 20 months, we’ve all seen the next step on this downward spiral. Meaning the right-wing campaign to paint Obama as Osama bin Laden in a suit. But the chorus of prevarication attending Sarah Palin’s arrival on the national scene should dispel any notion that one ideology has a monopoly on mendacity.
Factor in the mistrust (both conservative and liberal) of what used to be regarded as the ultimate arbiter of fact ó i.e., news media ó and you have to wonder whether truth still has a future here.
Like so many other things in this country, it has become splintered and factionalized. These days, every ideology has a “truth” and everybody’s “truth” has an agenda. Nothing is settled and known. All things are up in the air, all things open to interpretation. Indeed, truth hardly seems to be the point anymore. Lies serve just as well. As a result, we are no longer grounded in the same shared body of facts and in a very real sense, have no basis upon which to reason together, no basis for shared mission, purpose or identity. Those bases are, not incidentally, foundation blocks of nationhood.
Already the political sides in this country talk past each other like Mars and Venus. If the games of obfuscation and fabrication political hacks play really are becoming common among real people, it can only get worse.
They think they’re helping a candidate win an election. Truth is, they’re helping all of us lose a whole lot more.
– – –
Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald. E-mail lpitts@miamiherald.com.

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