ARE LYING JOURNALISTS REALLY POLITICIANS IN DISGUISE?
You can’t hide your lyin’ eyes/And your smile is a thin disguise/I thought by now you’d realize/There ain’t no way to hide your lyin’ eyes (The Eagles)
It is no mere coincidence that some of the world’s more respected magazines and newspapers have in recent times been focusing on the morphology of deceit. Doubtless inspired by Donald Trump’s countless references to his own highly successful The Art of the Deal, the September 10-16 edition of The Economist ran an item entitled Art of the Lie. It begins with the following eye-opener: Politicians have always lied. Does it matter if they leave the truth behind entirely?”
The arresting question returned to my mind Aesop’s “a liar will not be believed, even when he speaks the truth,” and I wondered: Might this explain why politicians lie even when the truth would better serve their purpose? Upon returning to office in 2011, when the country’s economy was even deeper down the toilet than it is today, the avowed socialist prime minister, hell-bent on appearing to make good on election promises he had to have known were impossible in the nation’s dire fiscal circumstances, proceeded to remake himself in the image of Santa Claus.
Every gift he tossed out of his bag was applauded by his overgrown yelping elves—Derek Walcott’s “best brains rooting at the trough for scraps of favor.” Shamelessly, some openly declared him immeasurably “compassionate.” For others he was “a caring leader, particularly concerned about the plight of the poor,” never mind that every tossed allocation represented another lethal blow to the neck of the comatose golden goose. Where would the money come from to pay the new flock of mayors and city councilors, the new playing fields, the new lighting systems, the additional consultants? That was the last question anyone thought to ask!
Already the government was borrowing to pay the interest on its killer loans. But that didn’t seem to concern Santa. For those who worried, he offered reassurance: he predicted the world economy would return to normalcy in 30 months; local tourism would in six months be bouncy-bouncy again; he would create another construction boom, bigger than he had at the time of Cricket World Cup. By 2013 Saint Lucia would be great again. Still no one questioned his magic. So it had been for years— de kolcha. If the prime minister said it, then it had to be unquestionably true.
But we were talking about lying politicians (yes, yes, I know, a gross redundancy). My most trusted lexicon defines the word “lie” as a false statement deliberately presented as being true; a falsehood; something meant to deceive or give a wrong impression. Even after President Obama released his birth certificate in 2011, Donald Trump repeatedly challenged its authenticity. He went so far as to insinuate there was a conspiracy—including murder—to keep the truth of Obama’s foreign birth from the public. This week he recanted. He said he actually believed the president was born in the US. Of course, he added that it was Hillary who had started the whole not-born-in-the-USA thing; not Donald Trump. Now it was time to move on.
He did something for years and then denied he’d done it. Is it fair, then, to call Trump a liar?
Closer to home: In 2005 (2004?) the day’s prime minister and MP for Vieux Fort South demanded an apology from a House colleague after she claimed during a sitting that the prime minister was at such a loss as to what to do about overwhelming crime in Saint Lucia that he had gone down on his knees before his criminal constituents and begged them to “please give the people a break for Christmas!”
With elections imminent the prime minister jumped to his feet and angrily demanded the Speaker order his offending colleague either to withdraw her statement and apologize or present proof of its veracity. He claimed her jibe was just another fabrication by the press and the opposition party that he had tolerated for far too long in silence. Unprepared on the moment to back up her words, the MP reluctantly withdrew. Less than a month later (the SLP had lost the election to a dying John Compton) Helen Television Service safely broadcasted a video of a particular pre-Christmas rally in Vieux Fort at which the former prime minister said precisely what he later said he had never said.
Would it be fair, then, to say Kenny Anthony is a liar? I suppose that would depend on what you mean by is. To return to The Economist and the Republican presidential nominee: “Mr. Trump is the leading exponent of ‘post-truth’ politics,” noted the magazine, by which it meant to say the American politician relied on “assertions that feel true but have no basis in fact.”
Moreover, “post truth” picks out the heart of what is new: that truth is not falsified, or contested, but of secondary importance. “Once upon a time,” recalled The Economist, “the purpose of political lying was to create a false view of the world.” But there had been a sudden change. “The lies men like Trump tell are intended only to reinforce prejudices. Feelings, not facts, are what matter in post-truth politics. If your opponents focus on trying to show your facts are wrong, they have to fight on the ground you have chosen.”
Still quoting from The
Economist: “Lies that are widely shared online within a network, whose members trust each other more than they trust any other source, can quickly take on the appearance of truth. Presented with evidence that contradicts a belief that is dearly held, such people have a tendency to ditch the facts first.”
To illustrate: Despite that at Section 65 our Constitution says: “The prime minister shall keep the governor general fully informed concerning the
general conduct of the government of Saint Lucia and shall furnish the governor general with such information as he may request with respect to any particular matter relating to the government of Saint Lucia,” still there are those (count among them highly regarded lawyers on especially friendly terms with the recently off-loaded prime minister) who insist the contrary is true; that the prime minister is free to decide for himself what he will tell the governor general!
Others jump and prance on what they have been taught to believe is the grave of Grynberg. “Dah dead man . . . let’s move on, let’s move on!” Sounds like Trump the birther, doesn’t it? Move on to what? Who knows? Who cares if in consequence we all take it in the neck, red and yellow?
And so, at long last, we arrive at this week’s post truth: Was it prime ministerial of Allen Chastanet to have called out a journalist he believed had written “maliciously” about him? As I’ve said elsewhere, more than once, I would prefer on this occasion not to mix my apples and pears. I am less concerned that the prime minister called an HTS reporter a liar than I am with what local journalism may have suffered this week.
But first the back story: On the morning of September 7 I was alerted to a Caribbean News Online item. My immediate reaction as I read it was shock. A second, slower read made me want to laugh out loud. But this was no laughing matter; just egregious writing that bordered on absurdity. It also had the potential to embarrass the governor general and the current prime minister, if not his father. I could not determine whether it was some off-season April Fool’s joke or a funhouse invitation to come party with royalty.
The article (actually it described itself as a “press release”) was headed “Coco Palm Rolls Out the Royal Carpet for Prince Harry.” It was accompanied by a photograph of Dame Pearlette Louisy cozying up to Allen Chastanet and his father Michael. Its one reference to Chastanet the Son was his past position as general manager of the family-owned Coco Palm—until the June 6 elections.
Minutes after I’d read for the third time the hotel’s release, I took a call from a reporter for HTS. Atypically, he solicited my assessment of the publication. Suffice it to say I was not kind, for several reasons, including that it showed both the governor general and the prime minister in an unflattering light. I acknowledged it nevertheless had the ingredients for an interesting story. I then called the Coco Palm’s general manager, whom I’ve known for over twenty years.
Feolla possesses a biting, very English wit. Initially, she imagined the release had merely poked fun at Harry’s tabloid image as a lady’s man, while promoting Coco Palm. She also informed me that her hotel would be closed at the time of the prince’s visit. Also that from all she’d heard he would be here only for a few hours and would not be staying at Coco Palm or, for that matter, any other local hotel.
I sternly reminded her that Allen Chastanet in his capacity as the Prime Minister of Saint Lucia was neither her brother nor the former manager of Coco Palm. She should keep that in mind, I advised, whenever she contemplated referencing Allen Chastanet.
Feolla is no fool, she quickly caught my drift. By the next day she had retracted her original release and issued another to the media and to the SLHTA indicating the displeasure of the prime minister’s office with her published promo.
As far as I know the matter went unreported by most of the local media. But more than a week following Feolla’s retraction-clarification HTS featured the results of a related so-called E-Poll and street interview that elicited answers potentially embarrassing to the prime minister. Thankfully there was no reference to Dame Pearlette.
On Monday, ahead of a scheduled 8 p.m. press briefing, the prime minister encountered a gaggle of reporters outside his office, the HTS representative among them. When he had the opportunity to question the PM, he said “many people” had been seeking “clarification” of the release put out by Coco Palm on September 7 and “clarified” a day later.
The prime minister’s reaction was less than cordial, for reasons undisclosed but not all that difficult to imagine. He gruffly asked the reporter whether he had contacted the hotel responsible for the troublesome release. The reporter said he had, but was denied a useful response. At which point the prime minister called him a liar.
Since then, some of Saint Lucia’s best brains have been calling the more accommodating talk shows, either to toss firebombs at the prime minister’s adjudged over-aggressive attitude toward a member of the press, or to spit on his record, at any rate according to the party that had declared itself at war with Allen and Michael Chastanet. As it turned out on June 6, a losing war!
Meanwhile, various individuals, some of whom have never placed much value on my opinions—except when they seem to reinforce their own prejudices, have been trying by diverse means to squeeze a comment out of me. But I have a question: How much did Allen Chastanet know when he accused the HTS reporter, to his face, of lying about having called Coco Palm?
According to his sister Feolla, her hotel had received just one call in relation to her promo. It came shortly after I’d spoken to her—from someone from the office of the prime minister who had complained in no uncertain terms that her promo was out of line and needed clarification. It was Feolla’s decision to not only pull the promo but also to issue a new release to the press and to the SLHTA acknowledging her poor judgment. I imagine it would not be at all difficult in this time for the HTS reporter to prove she, not the HTS reporter, is the liar!
Is there an equivalent of Emily Post’s Etiquette for prime ministers and other government officials? And, if there is, is it available at our Central Library?