A Truth Reckoning: Why We’re Holding Those Who Lied For Trump Accountable
"Yesterday’s insurrection was rooted in lies. That a fair election was stolen. That a significant defeat was actually a landslide victory. That the world’s oldest democracy, ingeniously insulated via autonomous state voting regimens, is a rigged system. Such lies-upon-lies, repeated frequently and fervently, provided the kindling, the spark, the gasoline.
That Donald Trump devolved from commander-in-chief to liar-in-chief didn’t surprise Forbes: As we’ve chronicled early and often, for all his billions and Barnum-like abilities, he’s been shamelessly exaggerating and prevaricating to our faces for almost four decades. More astonishing: the number of people willing to lend credence to that obvious mendacity on his behalf.
In this time of transition – and pain – reinvigorating democracy requires a reckoning. A truth reckoning. Starting with the people paid by the People to inform the People.
As someone in the business of facts, it’s been especially painful to watch President Trump’s press secretaries debase themselves. Yes, as with their political bosses, spins and omissions and exaggerations are part of the game. But ultimately in PR, core credibility is the coin of the realm.
From Day One at the Trump White House, up has been down, yes has been no, failure has been success. Sean Spicer set the tone with the inauguration crowd size – the worst kind of whopper, as it demanded that people disbelieve their own eyes. The next day, Kellyanne Conway defended Spicer’s lie with a new term, “alternative facts.” Spicer’s successor, Sarah Huckabee Sanders lied at scale, from smearing those who accused Trump of sexual harassment to conjuring jobs statistics. Her successor, Stephanie Grisham, over the course of a year, never even held a press conference, though the BS continued unabated across friendly outlets. And finally, Kayleigh McEnany, Harvard Law graduate, a propaganda prodigy at 32 who makes smiling falsehood an art form. All of this magnified by journalists too often following an old playbook ill-prepared for an Orwellian communication era.
As American democracy rebounds, we need to return to a standard of truth when it comes to how the government communicates with the governed. The easiest way to do that, from where I sit, is to create repercussions for those who don’t follow the civic norms. Trump’s lawyers lie gleefully to the press and public, but those lies, magically, almost never made it into briefs and arguments – contempt, perjury and disbarment keep the professional standards high.
So what’s the parallel in the dark arts of communication? Simple: Don’t let the chronic liars cash in on their dishonesty. Press secretaries like Joe Lockhart, Ari Fleischer and Jay Carney, who left the White House with their reputations in various stages of intact, made millions taking their skills — and credibility — to corporate America. Trump’s liars don’t merit that same golden parachute. Let it be known to the business world: Hire any of Trump’s fellow fabulists above, and Forbes will assume that everything your company or firm talks about is a lie. We’re going to scrutinize, double-check, investigate with the same skepticism we’d approach a Trump tweet. Want to ensure the world’s biggest business media brand approaches you as a potential funnel of disinformation? Then hire away.
This isn’t cancel culture, which is a societal blight. (There’s surely a nice living for each of these press secretaries on the true-believer circuit.) Nor is this politically motivated, as Forbes’ pro-entrepreneur, pro-growth worldview has generally placed it in the right-of-center camp over the past century — this standard needs to apply to liars from either party. It’s just a realization that, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said, in a thriving democracy, everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts. Our national reset starts there."