Don’t get burned saying liar, liar, pants on fire

Calling someone a liar is a subjective statement.

I was asked the other day when it’s okay to call someone a ‘liar’ in the media.

My short answer: ‘Never.’

Not in a newspaper, on a blog, on a TV show or a Facebook page.

Calling someone a liar is a subjective statement. It says nothing about the facts of what a person has claimed; rather, it’s a judgement about whether or not they are honestly presenting their case.

With very rare exceptions we have no way of knowing if a person is consciously lying, that is: deliberately misrepresenting things in order to shape a message  according to their own best interests.

So how do you call that person out?

Short answer: Stick to the facts (and be very sure you’ve got them right); present your information clearly; then let your readers come to their own conclusions.

How, then, can politicians – particularly south of the border – bandy the word liar about with seeming impunity.

I’m no expert, particularly when it comes to American libel law. But I suggest politicians and other high flyers engage in a game of legal chicken when it comes to libel and defamation.

It’s a cynical calculation that drives debate to its lowest common denominator; it’s also strategically very effective.

Call your opponent a liar and what’s she going to do? Will she launch a libel suit and give you a bigger platform where you can continue making your claims under even taller headlines? Will she give you the opportunity to accuse her of attempting to stifle ‘frank’ debate with a trumped up legal challenge?

Smart politicians with a streak of demagoguery in them know they are engaged in a branch of theatre, where nothing plays better than controversy.

Bottom line: Call someone a liar, and there’s a very good chance you are straying far from the truth yourself.

Craig Spence, Editor

 

 

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