Suzanne Fields

Lies can be merely wishes, saying what you hope is true, and if President Obama gets the benefit of the doubt he doesn't deserve, his early pledges about keeping the insurance we like may have been wishful thinking, but once the evidence was in and he continued to say it, the "misspeaking" became the willful lie.

The fact checkers at The Washington Post, which grants the president many mulligans, use symbols of Pinocchio to denote lying. This time they gave him the maximum, four Pinocchios.

It's hardly stop-press news that politicians lie, but when lies go viral on the Internet, it's difficult for the truth to survive. Just as the comedy "news" shows are not after truth, the Internet blurs fact and fiction because the gatekeepers, the crusty old city editors who wouldn't let a reporter or columnist get by with fudging facts, are mostly all dead. The new breed insists that "going viral" trumps verification, volume trumps veracity. Incentives work against truth telling in the high tech culture.

"If you throw something up without fact-checking it, and you're the first one to put it up, and you get millions and millions of views, and later it's proved false, you still get those views," Ryan Grim, the Washington bureau chief for the Huffington Post, told The New York Times, conceding that it had posted phony stories. "That's a problem."

The specific stories Huffington posted were fairly harmless. Once, a child's letter to Santa on Twitter with a detailed link to, was actually written by a grown-up comedian. A fight on an airliner that was reported as fact was actually pure fiction. But when truth is continually sacrificed -- whether carelessly or cravenly -- on sites that purport to offer serious news, trustworthiness is sacrificed, and the reader is confused as well as deceived. This is true when presidents do it, too.

The searchers who found the hard-to-spot Pinocchio lizard say the critters, though camouflaged, weren't hard to find "if you knew where to look." The lizard, in fact, was one up on truth in public life.

Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

Be the first to read Suzanne Fields' column. Sign up today and receive delivered each morning to your inbox.

©Creators Syndicate