I’m going to start by telling you my earliest memory of seeing a politician lie. I don’t remember how old I was, but I was pretty little, maybe three or four. I didn’t know who the president was or what that title meant or what taxes were or why I should care about any of it.
But I do remember one day when I was watching some kids’ shows, and they kept showing the same promo for the nightly news at every commercial break. I was used to seeing the same commercials, but usually they had different stuff at each break to tease the news—or, as my little-kid self thought of it, “that boring old people stuff I don’t want to watch.”
But this day they showed the same thing at every commercial break. It was a very short clip, of an old guy with gray hair in a suit, saying one thing: “Read my lips, no new taxes.”
I got pretty bored seeing that over and over. At one point, my mom wandered into the room and I asked her about it. You know what she said? “Well, that guy is the president now, and when he was running for president he made a promise, and he didn’t keep it. It’s the news networks’ jobs to let people know when that happens. When someone has a big, important job like that, they have to be held accountable.”
I hadn’t thought about that in years, but I’ve been thinking about it lately. We have a First Amendment for precisely that reason—so our leaders can be held accountable, so when they lie, the press can make sure people are aware of it. (Of course, that assumes people trust the press more than “alternative facts” made up in the Fantasyland of their own minds, but you get the idea.)
For the record, I’m not just picking on George Bush, Senior. He’s neither the first nor the last president to break a campaign promise, and in fact, his missteps seem pretty minor compared to some of the shit that’s happened in the last six months. My point is that back in the nineties, news networks made everyone aware when a politician had lied. (Again, not just Bush. I remember hearing about Bill Clinton’s penis and how he lied about a blowjob every night on the news for about two years.)
Personally, I think journalists today need to spend more time blasting every lie every high-ranking government official tells over, and over, and over. If the president, or a congressperson, or whoever, gets caught in a lie, or breaks a campaign promise, that needs to be the promo that runs at every commercial break on the national networks. On the 24/7 cable networks, that should run continuously, until the next time a politician gets caught lying. No, it wouldn’t get boring. At the rate politicians lie, in 24 hours there would be a ton of variety.
But the cable networks aren’t going to do that, because their sponsors think people would rather listen to pundits argue about every little thing than watch actual news. But we can all help. Start today. Share a clip of a politician lying on social media. Or four. Check your facts first, so you’re not out spreading alternative facts—check your sources, make sure they’re legitimate news organizations, maybe find a nice clip of the campaign promise while you’re at it, and share that shit. If the news networks aren’t going to do what they did in the nineties and blast every broken campaign promise like a broken record—in other words, if they’re not going to do their job—then the rest of us are just going to have to step up and do it for them. Remember, the First Amendment covers our free speech, too.
W. T. Fallon is the author of Fail to the Chief, a political satire in which the presidential election is carried out via reality show, which is almost as bizarre and far-fetched as our current reality.