George Washington cut down a cherry tree and when confronted about it could not lie. Our current George, the brush-cutting president can’t seem to
tell the truth. Whether he’s lying about WMDs or his military service record, just the other day in presenting his budget, saying that he was addressing the needs of the poor while slashing the Medicare program, Bush wouldn’t know the truth if it was a sharp rock and he was sitting on it. Nothing Bush says has what Steven Colbert calls “truthiness,” (unless truthiness means something that has not the “ring” of truth but the “clank” of truth).
Dissembling is infectious in his administration. Never mind that Scott McClellan (maybe his real name) is just plain now expected to lie. He’s so reliable at it that we can be confident that the truth is the exact opposite of whatever he says. We just finished listening Bush dump Harriet Miers (but letting her do it), and the Sam “the Masturbator” Alito hype, and then his evasive replies (read “lies”) about Roe v Wade. There’s former Secretary of State Colin Powell lying to the world about aluminum rods and yellow cake Nigerian uranium, the current secretary lying about “the US does not torture.” And now Attorney general Gonzales testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the president’s spying on Americans saying the “George Washington . . . allowed electronic surveillance.” (Must have been after George finished cutting down that cherry tree with his chain saw.)
No wonder all sorts of people seem to be lying these days. People we need to be able to trust, like journalists, are lying all over the place. People like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilley lie routinely in ways that are easily documented; but there are also the a growing number of he Jayson Blairs Judith Millers, who were from the legitimate press. That moral breakdown of the Bush administration (remember he ran saying he would return morality to Washington)  seems to have become an epidemic of prevarication that is infecting the whole country.
It’s the “end justifies the means morality” that the Bush administration has brought to Washington, the new morality that says if you believe the cause is right, and the result might not hurt anybody (or anybody you care about) you can call a policy that will allow more, not less, pollution a “Clear Skies Initiative,” or allow the Pentagon to cock up a story like the Jessica Lynch story, or withhold the truth about Pat Tillman’s death. You get a society where what is called “reality television” is anything but real. And you get authors, Like James Frey (A Million Little Pieces , and who knows how many little deviations from the truth) writing what was purported to be a “non fiction” book.
And that’s where I’m headed with this. Frey, whose book made the Oprah Book Club, a sure thing for the best-seller list, made millions before it came out that the former drug addict likes to embellish things a bit. He denied that months in jail were not just a night, and other gross exaggerations, were lies. His publisher backed him, and Oprah backed him, until the truth overwhelmed the matter. His publisher has added a “qualification” to his book and Oprah kicked his butt all over her set after apologizing to readers for being taken in by him. My daughter, who read the book before the truth came out, gave it high praise and recommended it to me, now feels cheated.
We all feel cheated when somebody lies to us (and it might cost you your life if Bush is doing the lying). But, remember, the new morality that Bush brought us is that the end justifies the means. You see, even since his book was shown to be fraudulent, James Frey has sold millions more copies. So, I say it’s my turn, baby, time to look out for No. 1. So what if my book really didn’t make the Oprah Book Club. Pretty soon Oprah will have me on her show to give me a good dressing down for exploiting her book club.
Here’s how it will go.
Oprah: Today I am interviewing Dr. James A. Clapp, author of This Urban Life , a book he falsely claims is one of my book club’s recommendations. [Oprah holds up copy of my book and camera takes a close up. Yessss! ] You are a liar, Dr. Clapp, and I want the whole world to know it. [Go tell it on a mountain, Oprah, Yipeeeee !] How did my book club sticker get on your book?
Me: Well, James Frey’s book was on my floor—I read all your recommended books [a lie]—and my book must have fallen on top of it and the sticker somehow came off his book and attached itself to my book. It happened to be the copy I was sending to the New York Times book review editor.
Oprah: That’s preposterous!
Me: Yes, I suppose it sounds that way. So maybe I’ll recant that in a few days [after the New York Times bestseller list comes out].
Oprah: Don’t you have any respect for the truth, Dr. Clapp? What kind of a person are, anyway?
Me: I greatly respect the truth Miss Winfrey [that’s true]. My book is all true. But I want everybody to know that truth, so a little. . . ahem . . . lie about it being selected by you book club seemed harmless. You see, the end justifies the means. And, as to what kind of a person am I? Well, a person who has always had to fight a tendency to put on weight, like . . .
Oprah (scowling fierce): I wouldn’t go there, Dr. Clapp; not if you want to live to write another book.
Me (sheepishly): Yes, sorry maam. It’s just that there’s a chapter in my book about how I lose weight by walking about cities [the truth] after taking a meal from my “urban life diet” that’s printed in the book [a lie; I sure hope she hasn’t read the book]. You can find interesting restaurants, stop and have coffee and a dessert at wonderful cafés, eat all you want and you won’t gain an ounce [yeah, sure, and have a slice of Nigerian Yellow Cake, too].
Oprah: Really? [taking the bait]. Maybe I’ll just peruse your book a little.
Me: Oh, I’d be honored if you would, Miss Winfrey, deeply honored. [I’m beginning to sound like Uriah Heap, now; this lying thing is addicting. By the time she finds out there’s no “urban life diet” I’ll be up another million in sales.]
Oprah: But you must know I’m still pretty upset with you about youR lying. [Oprah flips the book over to the back cover.] But this is sort of a cute photo of you, when you had a bit more hair. [She holds the back cover to the camera, Yahooooo! ] So, are you working on another book, Dr. Clapp?
Me: [scarcely able to contain my glee]: Yes, maam, I am. It’s the second volume of what I call the “Lose Your Behind Series” [that’s a lie, but now I’m thinking about it]. It’s about how, at the Rapture, only city people will be taken into heaven.
Oprah: Well, you’re quite the writer aren’t you, Dr. Clapp. Maybe we’ll consider it for the Oprah Book Club [ Yessss! Oh Yessss, Oh, Thank You, George, you have shown me the way!!! ] What’s the title or your next volume?
Me: It’s called My Ripped Urban Abs , maam.
Oprah: Super. [Thunderous applause from the studio audience for whom I begin signing copies of my book. Go to commercial].
©2006, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 2.8.2006)
 I’ve written before that Clinton lied—hell he did it right on television – but in some sense had a right to because no one had the right to know what he did with a consenting adult in private that had nothing to do with governance, other than his wife. He later recanted.