You can’t be a truth-seeker if you’re also a liar

Trump’s claim that he won the 2020 election is one lie in a culture of falsehood. Media ethics students learn they, too, often fail at truth-telling.

In this Jan. 12, 2021, file photo President Donald Trump walks to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington. In a fall 2019 and early spring 2020 media ethics class at Greenlee School Journalism and Communication at Iowa State University, Michael Bugeja and his students studied lies, deceit and secrecy in the first impeachment trial of Donald Trump (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

By: Michael Bugeja, copyright 2021, Poynter Institute

In 1996, 77 college students kept a diary of their social interactions every day for a week, noting all the lies that they told, whom they told them to, and their reasons for telling them.

According to an article titled “Lying in Everyday Life” published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, students told two lies per day on average. That translated into about one lie in every three encounters. In general, women told as many lies as men, but those tended to differ in substance, with women tending to lie to make people feel better and men to make themselves look better.

When that article appeared in June 1996, I had been doing a similar diary exercise for about six years in my media ethics classes at Ohio University. Students received these instructions:

  1. In a personal journal, for a period of one week, keep track of all the white lies, half-truths and falsehoods that you say or indicate to others. Under each incident or item, briefly note the immediate, future or possible consequences of the lie.
  2. Keep track of all the white lies, half-truths and falsehoods that others say or indicate to you. Under each incident or item, briefly note the immediate, future or possible consequences of the lie.
  3. Keep track of times when you wanted to tell a white lie, half-truth or falsehood … but caught yourself and told the truth or declined to answer the question (doing so in a polite, discreet, or otherwise appropriate way).
  4. In your personal journal, write about what you learned from the exercise.

I continued this exercise through my tenure at OU, ending in 2003. On average, students told between two to six lies per day underestimating the consequences, caught others in a lie every other day dispensing swift consequences, and were tempted to lie but told the truth about once or twice a week. Essentially, that meant students were interacting in an environment of lies as many went undiscovered with liars seemingly escaping consequences.

For the rest of the article, click here or visit: https://www.poynter.org/ethics-trust/2021/you-cant-be-a-truth-seeker-if-youre-also-a-liar/

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