Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Laura Flanders, G. W. Bush, and the Concept of a Lie

I saw Laura Flanders, the Air America talk show host, on C-Span yesterday morning. She seemed intelligent until she said something stupid in response to a caller: "Bush has been shown to have lied about WMDs."

Here we have the typical liberal confusion of a lie with a false statement. The two are different because one can make a false statement without lying, and one can lie without making a false statement. Distinguish the intent from the content of an utterance. Questions about mendacity and veracity pertain to intent, not content. Questions about truth and falsity pertain to content, not intent. (The content of an utterance is the proposition expressed by the utterance.)

At the very most, Bush has been shown to have been mistaken about WMDs. He has not been shown to have lied about them. If Flanders appreciates this simple point, then either she herself is lying about Bush's state of mind, or else she is making an imputation for which she has no evidence. If Flanders does not appreciate this simple point, then she is intellectually obtuse.

If one thinks about it, it makes no sense to impute mendacious intent to Bush. For if he knew there were no WMDs, but said that there were just so he could have an excuse to invade Iraq, then he would have had the reasonable expectation that his lie would eventually be exposed and his administration discredited.

When O'Reilly interviewed Michael Moore, the latter said that Bush "misled" us. O'Reilly missed the opportunity to say, 'But not intentionally.' Moore wanted his audience to slide illictly from 'Bush misled us' to 'Bush lied to us.'

The June 17th, 2004 edition of The Economist shows Bush and Blair under the heading, "Sincere Deceivers." A clever phrase, that. One could argue that it is not oxymoronic: there is nothing in the concept of deception to require that a deception be intentional. But that is not the way most readers will take it. They will take it to imply that Bush and Blair intentionally deceived them, while appearing sincere. A fiendishly clever phrase that allows the editors an escape from the charge of libel.