“Follow me around. I’m serious. If anybody wants to put a tail on me, go ahead.” This bold challenge by presidential candidate Gary Hart in 1987, bulwarking his denial that he was having an extramarital affair, started a new era in media ethics. Henceforth, sexual conduct and cover-up lies by politicians became fair game for the mainstream media because it was a matter of “character.” Hart’s lie ended in a career-destroying explosion when photos appeared from Bimini showing model Donna Rice sitting on his lap on a yacht ironically named Monkey Business.
Two decades later, President Bill Clinton looked directly at the camera and said: “I want to say one thing to the American people. I want you to listen to me. I’m going to say this again: I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky. These allegations are false.“ This audacious lie was followed by scores of others lies and evasions, including his under-oath testimony before a grand jury that he did not think oral sex constituted sexual relations and the now famous, “It depends on what the meaning of the words ‘is’ is.” Eventually, straining logic and language to avoid acknowledging that he “lied” and to avoid a perjury conviction, Mr. Clinton was forced to tell his wife, his sincere and vehement defenders, and everyone else that he “misled” them.*
A few years ago Governor Mark Sanford tried to cover up his trip to Argentina to see his mistress by telling staff to tell reporters he was “hiking on the Appalachian Trail.”
It’s a familiar pattern: bad choices followed by lies wrapped in self-righteous indignation.
We saw it when Senator John Ensign denied an affair, when Senator David Vitter denied his relationship with a prostitute, and recently when former Senator and presidential candidate John Edwards and former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had to acknowledge fathering children outside their marriages and telling lies to cover up their infidelities.
It’s ironic that as the country is almost smothered with the lies told by murder defendant Casey Anthony, another Anthony, Anthony Weiner, just confessed he lied about the comparatively frivolous act of “sexting” women he never met. But, during his confession, he pulled “a Clinton” by trying to mislead reporters about the extent of his contact with at least six women he admits he sent sexually oriented texts and pictures. He stressed he never met or had physical sexual relations with the women but refused to answer whether he had engaged in phone and/or internet sex with them. Yuck! Too much information!
Lying to conceal embarrassing, reputation-damaging, or illegal behavior is, of course, not limited to politicians. Dozens of athletes lied about taking steroids and other performance enhancing drugs, and scores of business executives lied to acquire or preserve wealth.
Winston Churchill once said that sometimes the truth is so precious that it must be protected by “a bodyguard of lies.” He was talking about wartime military secrets, but the truth of his observation applies to protecting any lie, however tawdry, to conceal conduct the liar prefers to keep secret.
The simple truth: Don’t do anything you will have to lie about because if the act doesn’t get you, the lying will.
This is Michael Josephson reminding you that CHARACTER COUNTS!
* This is a more extensive version of the radio commentary.
** On his last full day in office, to end any possibility of criminal prosecution, Mr. Clinton issued this written statement: “I tried to walk a fine line between acting lawfully and testifying falsely, but I now recognize that I did not fully accomplish this goal and am certain my responses to questions about Ms. Lewinsky were false.” I suppose that’s as close as he was willing to get to confessing that he lied.