In the aftermath (or it may simply be the middle) of the Brian Williams scandal, we should take a look at public liars. It appears that these public liars fall into three categories:
The first group includes those who inflate their involvement in real events. This would include Brian Williams and his false claim to have been on board a military helicopter that was hit by an RPG round in Iraq. As it turns out he was not on the helicopter that was hit, not even in the group of helicopters that was hit, but rather in a group of helicopters going the other way that passed by the downed helicopter almost an hour after the strike.
As other allegations arise regarding discrepancies in Mr. Williams’ on-air statements, a pattern emerges that suggests these lies are designed to make an otherwise dull person appear interesting. Mr. Williams’ success on NBC has been primarily a result of his good looks and his resonant voice. As a result he has become rich beyond his wildest dreams, commanding a salary of $13M annually and amassing a fortune of over $40M. He is free to lecture the world’s elite on truth, charity, and the commonweal knowing that he is generally unaccountable for adhering to the same standards he demands of others. But despite the position, wealth and glamour, he is still a dull person. He is not a journalist but rather, like an actor, a reader of someone else’s work. His celebrity status has earned him invitations to appear for interviews (mostly television entertainment shows) for which he must be endlessly fascinating – how fascinating is someone who reads from a script. To create the illusion of a fascinating character he has taken to inserting himself into the stories he reads – a modern Walter Middy. He lives off of someone else’s daring, tragedy and accomplishments.
It puts him a league with other notable dull people who strive to be interesting by exaggerating their participation in someone else’s accomplishments. For instance, former Vice-president Al Gore claimed to have invented the internet, to have been the role model for Love Story and to have served in combat in Vietnam – none of these were true. Al Gore is one of the dullest people on earth – so much so that his “handlers” during his presidential races insisted that he wear browns and greens to “humanize” him. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) claimed to be of Native American heritage to enhance her credentials at Harvard and provide a “fascinating” appeal to the liberal base of Massachusetts voters – a Native American made good. (Unfortunately, the press ignored a real Native American who was elected repeatedly to the House of Representatives and the United States Senate, Ben Nighthorse Campbell.)
Which bring us to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who claimed that she and her daughter Chelsea came under sniper fire during a visit to Bosnia – not true. She also claimed that at the conclusion of President Clinton’s term in office they were nearly bankrupt and were uncertain as whether they could pay the mortgages (pl.) – all said to put herself into the story of understanding the financial hardship that has been imposed by the Bush/Obama recession and the less than tepid recovery engineered by Mr. Obama.
The next category of liars is those who lie to avoid responsibility for acts that have gone bad. President Bill Clinton was (probably still is) a notorious Lothario. So much so that that his campaign managers (and subsequently the White House managers) created a squad of operatives to dispatch his latest “conquests” by money, fear or intimidation. Famously, having been caught red handed with the fair Monica Lewinsky, he stated categorically that he “never had sex with that woman – Monica Lewinsky” and that he “never, not once, asked anyone to lie for him about it.” Of course, a blue dress subsequently became his undoing. He joins other notables such as Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY), Rep. Wilbur Mills (D-AR), Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) and Sen. Gary Hart (D-CO).
But it’s not just affairs for which these public liars seek to avoid responsibility. After a feckless President Barack Obama failed to confront Syria’s Bashar al Assad over his use of chemical weapons, he denied that he ever drew a “red line.” When ISIS took over major landmasses in Iraq and Syria, Mr. Obama denied that he ever referred to them as the “JV team.” And after Mr. Obama declared al-Qaeda decimated, he sent now-Ambassador Susan Rice to peddle a false story about a video causing the terrorist attack and killing of American Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
Which brings us again to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who denied virtually any involvement in the lead up to and the actual events surrounding the terrorist attack and joined Mr. Obama in blaming the video for the terrorist attack in Benghazi. Previously Mrs. Clinton has denied any knowledge about missing Rose Law Firm files on Whitewater although they subsequently turned up several years later on a desk outside her suite in the White House.
And finally, there are the intentional misstatements and withholding of information in order to secure approval of a project or proposal. One of the most notorious of these was the statement by President Lyndon Johnson alleging that North Vietnamese ships attacked the USS Maddox in international waters off the Gulf of Tonkin. It was made to secure support in Congress for a resolution giving Mr. Johnson broad powers to provide military support to governments throughout Southeast Asia – including Viet Nam. It was a lie. And recently we have seen a whole raft of these deliberately false statements by Mr. Obama in support of passage of Obamacare. Chief amongst these were the statements that “if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor . . . if you like our insurance plan you can keep your insurance plan.” Both of these were made while Mr. Obama was in possession of studies (which he withheld from Congress and the public) which showed precisely the opposite.
Which brings us one more time to Mrs. Clinton. While Mrs. Clinton worked on the Watergate committee early in her legal career she took and withheld historical files that countered her argument that President Nixon should be denied counsel in proceedings before the House of Representatives. Her conduct was so egregious that she was fired for unethical conduct and her then supervisor Jerome Zeifman declared that were this a matter occurring before a judicial officer, Mrs. Clinton would have been disbarred.
Liars in politics, like the poor, have always been with us. But in the choice for President of the United States, perhaps it would do to pay closer attention to the character of the candidates.