Hello. I’m a liar. Pleased to meet you.
I know that I’m a liar for this reason: Twice in one week, operatives for two Georgia politicians have informed me of it. “YOU LIED TO ME!” one of them screamed (in ALL CAPS) in a voice mail, one of two screaming voice mails he left on my phone following a fairly bland story I produced that included an interview with his candidate.
A few days later, another operative was more diplomatic and mature, but no less emphatic. We feel like you told us you were doing one story. Then, on TV, we saw a different story. It’s worth noting that this particular candidate declined to be interviewed for the story I pitched.
Did I actually lie to these people? Of course not. In both cases, I broadly outlined the story I was producing. I intentionally declined to provide specifics. I couldn’t — I hadn’t gathered the material nor written the story yet.
In the news biz, we write the story after we gather the relevant material, and distill the available facts.
In the news biz, sometimes the story changes based on the material gathered.
Suppose I interview Augustus Ankle, candidate for Governor. I’m asking Mr. Ankle about education. During the course of the interview, he reveals he wants to legalize prostitution. Odds are, the story as described earlier would change drastically by air time.
More likely, the thumbnail of any story described at the outset during a phone call at 9am will evolve by the time it airs at 6.
That doesn’t make me a liar.
In both cases, I had follow up chats with my accusers. We concluded with a better understanding of each other, and seemed to salve the wounds. (My favorite part was when the screaming ALL CAPS operative began a sentence by saying “Look — I’ve been doing this for eight years…” After he finished, I stage-whispered: “Want to know how long I’ve been doing this?” He changed the subject.)
Those people are accustomed to throwing around the word “liar.” In debates. In commercials. In casual conversation. In press interviews.
“My opponent is lying when he calls me a liar.” It’s a word that’s so overused in politics, its meaning has been devalued more than a Zimbabwean dollar.
So a political operative or two has called me a liar.
You’re breaking my heart.