Are You Lying Right Now? (Or Simply ‘Misspeaking’?)

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These past few weeks have distinguished themselves by the number of lies exposed publicly. The insulting way of describing the behavior as “misspeaking” isa linguistic trick that should be pointed out and even held up for ridicule by everybody reporting on such bald and unembarrassed dissembling.

Misspeaking is, of course, not the same thing as lying. Misspeaking involves inadvertently getting a figure wrong, or misquoting someone by mistake in a way that does not do their intellect or morality justice. But when it comes to lying, there is a whole other bar that needs to be cleared.

Newscaster Brian Williams and VA chief Robert McDonald have, in fact, cleared that bar. Both apparently misspoke/lied a couple of times, actually, despite the fact that, well, we kind of have to depend upon them to tell the truth. And if we know that we cannot depend upon them, it provides us with plenty of ballast for a profound skepticism about government and the media.

Nonprofit spokespeople have also been known to lie. NPQ’s Shafaq Hasan has taken up the issue of nonprofit lying in her newswire today, “Poverty Porn, Fundraising Fraud, Larcenous Lies—Oh, My!” In our opinion, this rises to the same level: A lie that not only besmirches the individual and the organization but casts a shadow of doubt over others in the sector.

More generally about lying—we all do it. It is a national sport. But to understand the damage lying does to nonprofit organizations, we recommend Erline Belton’s “Nonprofit Truth or Consequences: The Organizational Importance of Honesty. Meanwhile, far be it for me to say anything about the esteemed Bill O’Reilly, but that, of course, is a different kettle of fish altogether.

P.S. William Safire wrote in his column at the New York Times five years ago that, “The great 12-volume Century Dictionary of 1890 was the first to define the colloquial sense of misspeak: ‘to express improperly or imperfectly; to speak otherwise than according to one’s intention.’” It is not filed under a synonym for fib.