The very good FactCheck.org website gets to the truth behind issues and what public officials say about them. It also answers questions in its weekly mailbag feature. It recently got this plaintive e-mail from a Yakima man:
Week after week you expose the lies and distortions being propagated by our politicians. What is so depressing is that this behavior continues nonetheless, week after week.
I think that it should be a felony for a politician (or anyone else for that matter) to deliberately mislead and lie to the American voter. If a lie in a campaign ad isn’t deliberate, I don’t know what is. But in the name of “freedom of speech” politicians are allowed to twist, distort and outright lie with impunity. And it will continue if there are no negative consequences. The reality is that sometimes people win BECAUSE OF their lies and distortions (e.g. remember the Swift Boat campaign?).
Public exposure doesn’t seem to bother these shameless liars. If this were an honest country, we wouldn’t even need a FactCheck! We could trust that what our officials were telling us was the truth — even if we had to take the “spin” out of it.
FactCheck.org’s response: “Unfortunately, as we’ve written before, it’s probably not feasible to make laws about honesty in campaigning.”
Here’s an article it ran on the issue from 2004. Prominently mentioned is a Washington State Supreme Court ruling in “The Case of the Killer Ophthalmologists.”
It’s a good read and timely as we head into the election season (filing week is June 7-11), when sensational claims are likely to be made left and right. Essentially, the court rules that political speech, even when it’s outrageously false, is protected.
“Instead of relying on the State to silence false political speech, the First Amendment requires our dependence on even more speech to bring forth truth. … The First Amendment exists precisely to protect against laws such as [the Washington state truth-in-advertising law] which suppress ideas and inhibit free discussion of governmental affairs.”