What if the president lied to us?
With the latest major revelation about National Security Agency surveillance, there’s a huge taboo question that needs to be put out on the table: Has President Obama been deliberately lying about the NSA, or have his statements just been repeatedly “wrong”?
After Barton Gellman’s blockbuster story today about the NSA breaking “privacy rules or overstepp(ing) its legal authority thousands of times each year,” the Washington Post published an attendant commentary with a headline declaring the president was merely “wrong” in last week suggesting that the NSA wasn’t “actually abusing” its legal authority. The implication is that when Obama made that comment — and then further insisted the surveillance programs “are not abused” — he may have been inaccurate, but he didn’t necessarily deliberately lie because he may not have known he was not telling the truth.
This is not to single out the Post commentary because, of course, such a rhetorical dance is fairly standard for the official political discourse these days. Since at least the Iraq War if not before, the media and political class typically goes out of its way to avoid declaring a lie a lie. Simply put, from “we know where (the WMDs) are” to Obama’s “actually abusing” declaration, seemingly deliberately inaccurate statements are rarely ever framed as outright lies. Even when such statements come from those with vested interests in hiding the truth, words and phrases like “misstated,” “wrong,” “least untruthful” and “misspoke” are trotted out.
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