Apr 2012

Lying politicians (and media complicity)

Yesterday over in the UK, David Cameron gave a speech which contained two blatant lies. Firstly he claimed of the company Rolls Royce that “Half the members of its Board started as apprentices.” In fact, to quote the excellent Channel 4 FactCheck blog

Only one out of the fourteen members of the Rolls-Royce board of directors did an apprenticeship with the company, and that was a sponsored degree rather than a vocational course for a school-leaver.

David Cameron (British Prime Minister)

A lying liar

Cameron also claimed (and prefaced the claim with the immortal words, “I am not making this up”) that the previous Labour government had introduced a GCSE-equivalent course “in Personal Effectiveness which actually involved learning how to fill out a benefit form”. In fairness to Cameron he’s right when he said that he wasn’t making that one up. As the FactCheck blog reveals, he was actually just parroting something that the Daily Mail had made up. Which is par for the course for British politicians of almost every stripe.

Now, what irks me most is not those specific lies. It’s the fact that we have come to accept lies and half-truths from our politicians as though they were the most natural thing in the world. There will be no massive scandal about Cameron’s false claim that the Rolls Royce boardroom is half-filled with erstwhile apprentices who worked their way up from the machine room. Indeed, with the exception of a tiny handful of people who read the Channel 4 FactCheck blog, most people will never know the claim is false.

And tomorrow, or next week, he’ll make a speech with yet more self-serving lies and once again they will be accepted as fact.

Because despite the excellent FactCheck blog, the reality is that the media as a whole does a god-awful job of holding our politicians to account. In a sane world, Cameron’s next speech or press conference would be followed by a dozen questions from the floor asking him why he lied in his previous speech. Why he was content to trot out the vile falsehoods of the Daily Mail as though they were fact. Why, in fact, he was comfortable treating the citizens of his country with such naked contempt.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that journalists should be able to identify the lies as they are told. Fact checking takes time. But if they were doing their jobs in an even half-competent manner, they’d hold him to account for the things he says on the next occasion they got to question him. But they don’t. Instead they are actively complicit in those lies… reporting them without ever investigating them.

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