Kathleen Cochran is a writer & former newspaper reporter/editor who traveled the world as a soldier's better half. Her works are on Amazon.
Think 'Fake News' Is New?
Ever hear of "Yellow Journalism"? It was a style of newspaper reporting in the late 1800s that emphasized sensationalism over facts. It played a significant part in leading the U.S. into war with Spain. Its main purpose was to drive sales of newspapers. And the truth be damned.
People talk about "fake news" like 2017 just invented the stuff. It's not a result of the last election, no matter how loud or how long the accusations go on. There has always been a market in this country for the tawdry, the accusatory, the lazy, and the lowest form of journalism. We used to laugh at its outrageous headlines while we waited impatiently at the grocery checkout line. Just the mention of the name of certain publications completely obliterated the credibility of any story they ran.
But in today's climate, any story someone takes issue with can be labeled "fake news", and a seed of doubt is planted in our minds about, not only the veracity of the article but also of the media outlet that published it. It's not a matter of sensationalizing the news anymore. It's a matter of questioning the veracity of the news. What/who can we believe these days?
The ironic thing about our skepticism today is that it is being not so much encouraged as much as it is being egged on by leaders in the highest places of our government. Even our president declares what is true and what is fake for us, as if the presidency has always been above reproach when it came to truthfulness.
No, We Didn't Just Invent Presidents Who Lie
Can you name the 11th president of the United States? Most of us couldn't on a bet. But historians credit him with the second biggest presidential lie of all time.
The day before the inauguration of James K. Polk, the great state of Texas was admitted to the union. That was all fine and good for Texas, except that Mexico wanted it back. They had no intention of letting the results of Texas' fight for independence to go unchallenged. In fact, they had no intention of also losing California and the rest of the Southwest as we know it today.
Polk had won the presidency in part because of his belief in Manifest Destiny, the idea that God himself intended America to span the distance between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. To that end, President Polk offered Mexico $30 million for the southern boundary of Texas to be recognized as the Rio Grande River, plus the New Mexico territory and California. They refused even to meet with his envoy. So he sent 40,000 troops into the new state of Texas for the purpose of settling, once and for all, the dispute with Mexico over a distance of about 525,000 square miles. And just as Polk planned, Mexico fired on Polk's troops, killing or injuring 16 of them.
That action was all Polk needed to go to Congress and state that Mexico had "invaded our territory and shed the blood of our fellow-citizens on our own soil." The result of his lie? The Mexican-American War of 1846–1848, which added California and the Southwest as U.S. territories and defined the border of Texas. At the end of the war, Polk paid Mexico $15 million in reparations for the acquired U.S. territories.
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Most Recent 'Biggest Liar' President?
In recent times Ronald Reagan has achieved sainthood status among Republicans. The historic record remembers him somewhat differently.
During his eight-year administration, his welfare cuts sent half a million people, primarily children, into poverty and homelessness. Unemployment during his first term hit levels not seen since before WWII. Terrorists killed 229 Marines in Beirut, and Reagan responded by abandoning the U.S. position there. And eight senior members of his administration were indicted by the end of his terms, more than in Richard Nixon's Watergate scandal.
But the lie that puts Reagan in the top three for presidential untruths occurred in 1986. Iran offered to free U.S. hostages (taken after the release of the 52 that cost President Carter a second term) in exchange for missiles. "We did not, I repeat, did not trade weapons or anything else [to Iran] for hostages, nor will we," stated Reagan. A few months later he revised that statement. "A few months ago, I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that's true, but the facts and evidence tell me it is not."
Reagan had approved the sale of more than 2,000 anti-tank weapons to Iran in return for promises to release the American hostages there. Money from the sale of those weapons went to support the Contras' war in Nicaragua (in violation of a Congressional ban) in which some 70,000 Nicaraguans died in the war between the Contras and Sandinistas.
President Reagan's Explanation
The Number One Presidential Lie (According to Historians)
At the height of the Vietnam war, half a million U.S. soldiers were fighting in Southeast Asia, and by its end in 1974, 60,000 had died. Historians lay those deaths at the feet of President Lyndon B. Johnson.
In August 1964, two U.S. ships were reported attacked in Vietnam’s Gulf of Tonkin. Johnson called the attack “unprovoked” and ordered bombing North Vietnam in retaliation. Congress, followed this action with the passing of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, authorizing the president "to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the US and to prevent further aggression.” That resolution transferred the power of war from the Congress to the president and has been used by subsequent presidents to wage war without explicit congressional permission. And those extended results were born of a lie.
There was no unprovoked attack. In 1965, Johnson admitted the U.S. had been spying on North Vietnam in order to coordinate South Vietnamese attacks on them. The prevailing wisdom at the time predicted if South Vietnam fell to communism, the entire region would follow. Johnson eventually admitted, “For all I know, our Navy was shooting at whales out there.” But his lie won the support of the American people for the war, and 60,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines did not come home.
The Biggest Lie
Honorable Mention for Liars?
- George W. Bush: “Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.” The result: 17 years of war. So far 4,000 dead and many thousands injured. The Iraq and Afghan deaths/injuries are in the hundreds of thousands.
- Richard M. Nixon: “I am not a crook.” Nixon not only lied, he broke the law. The result: He resigned the presidency and put an unelected vice president in the Oval Office.
- Jimmy Carter: "I will never lie to you." This promise came on the heels of the first president in U.S. history to resign the office: Nixon. There are no documented lies concerning Carter's presidency. He kept his word. I mention him as an example of an honest man who was not considered a great president and was only elected for one term in office. So much for Americans' appreciation of honesty. Carter went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize after leaving office, and he is universally praised for his humanitarian efforts around the globe, including building homes for the poor.
- The Atlantic
- Mother Jones
- Defending the Truth.com
- The Huffington Post
- The Washington Post
- The Nation
Lies, Lies and Damned Lies
Which president told the worst lie?
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.