The Lies We Tell

This morning I asked my Facebook Reader’s Page what they would like me to blog about. The answer was lies.

LiesFacebook has a secret new algorithm to determine which page posts our followers will see. The new method involves cases of microbrews, a smoky room, a table filled with uninhibited Gen-Xers and dice. Sometimes my posts go to more than a thousand readers. Sometimes, like today’s, to less than two hundred.

One reader did respond, though. She was troubled by the Brian Williams scandal and the reaction against him. I use the scandal word with caution, but the situation has escalated that far, I believe, with new accusations that his coverage of Hurricane Katrina was also flawed and at best greatly exaggerated. There will be more accusations before this ends, just as women continue to come forward and accuse Bill Cosby of sexual abuse. The ball picks up speed as it rolls downhill. At a certain point we begin to wonder if our steadfast support for the accused might need to be re-examined.

If you haven’t been keeping up, the story in a nutshell: Williams claimed he was in a helicopter that came under fire in Iraq and was hit by a rocket propelled grenade. Now we know this wasn’t quite true because it was the copter in front of him. Williams attributes this to “memory fog.”

Celebrities and scholars are often found guilty of telling lies. For instance historian Doris Kearns Goodwin was accused of plagiarism for not attributing the work of other authors in her book The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys and possibly another. While she did acknowledge the other authors’ work in footnotes, she failed to include quotation marks for direct quotes.  She has since redeemed, at least mostly, her reputation and brought attention to the need for better scholarship. That, of course, isn’t always the outcome.

How important is the truth to you? How about in your most intimate relationships?

This week the New York Times had an editorial entitled “Good Lovers Lie.” The author claims there are “good lies and bad lies.”  He also says “Love is a greater good than the truth.” I won’t tell you how he comes to these conclusions. Read the editorial for more. But all the talk of lies has me thinking about our upcoming holiday, Valentine’s Day, when we celebrate love and lovers. And for me, and maybe for you, what part of love, is honesty?

Here’s what I think, as a wife, mother, novelist, minister’s spouse and former counselor. Take my opinions as simply that.

  • Lies come back to haunt us. Most are never uncovered but we worry they will be; the ones that are uncovered can destroy trust forever. Ask any woman who has discovered her husband (or vice versa) is having an extramarital affair he’s hidden from her. Will she ever forget and move on, even if he promises to end it and does? In the future will she believe whatever he tells her without serious questioning? Will she always be looking under the surface for more lies?
  • Conversely truth isn’t always the right path. If the reason for “telling the truth”–or your understanding of truth–is to hurt another person, then it can be as damaging as a lie. Before you blurt out something you want another person to know, ask yourself why you’re so anxious to tell. Is this something that will change the other person’s life for the better? Is this something that will ruin his day, or possibly his life? Is this something she really needs to know in order to protect herself or to help her make an important choice?
  • And so now, adding one point to the next, using my example we must ask: Then is it better to tell your spouse you’ve engaged in an affair and finally set the record straight, or is it better to keep this sad and painful truth to yourself so your spouse won’t suffer?

Some lies, like an affair–which  is usually one series of lies after another–breach trust in a particularly vicious way. Anyone who is properly, honestly sorry, has to decide if telling the truth will help or hurt their spouse. If the revelation and apology is just more of the same behavior that caused the affair, i.e. a disregard for your partner and a desire for gratification no matter the possible cost, then the answer is clear. At least to me.

Some relationships cry out for honesty. They are built almost exclusively on trust, and when that trust is questioned, then we must question the relationship.  One of those relationships is a marriage. So much depends on telling the truth and living the truth.

Another of those relationships? Our relationship with the people who bring us the news.

These days cyberspace is filled with lies. Half the articles I read–on all sides–are filled with half-truths and facts distorted and slanted toward a particular viewpoint. I depend on nightly news and the channels I most trust to help keep me discern truth so I can make good choices and decisions about world events. When someone as prominent as the anchor of a major network admits he played fast and loose with the facts, I have to question everything else he and his network have presented. Can I forgive and move on? Certainly.


Let’s hear what you think.


  1. Terry Guerra on February 10, 2015 at 1:55 am

    So disappointed in Brian Williams…I am still in a state of disbelief. As one who has read newspapers and magazines since I was a young child, and has the news on as my “background music” daily, I am not sure what to do. I do believe everyone deserves a second chance.

  2. Janet on February 10, 2015 at 1:26 pm

    I felt heartsick about Brian Williams, just as I did about President Clinton. I trusted them. That said, I am ready to forgive Brian. I believe he felt as if his exaggeration led to the drama of thanking the military for their service and keeping the reporters safe. However, we don’t need drama in our nightly news broadcasts. They are forever in a ratings war though. I hate the way ABC and CNN have jumped on the bandwagon against him!

    • Emilie Richards on February 10, 2015 at 4:24 pm

      I watch CBS and so far have been impressed by their reporting on this. Nothing sensational. OTOH I haven’t yet seen anything about it on Jon Stewart. That will be interesting. Williams has been his guest, I’m almost sure.

  3. Debra Hearne on February 10, 2015 at 2:49 pm

    Thank you for writing on this subject Emilie. Speaking for myself, I forgive Brian Williams. We all make mistakes and mis-remember events in our lives. An incident involving trauma can certainly play tricks on our memory. Taking into consideration how I remember something verses the way my husband may remember it.

    • Emilie Richards on February 10, 2015 at 4:23 pm

      I think a lot of people will and have forgiven him, but he will be under increased scrutiny for years to come. If nothing else, that will make his life/job more difficult.

  4. Sue Graham on February 10, 2015 at 4:34 pm

    To me, it’s much ado about nothing. Yes, he did misspeak & was called on it by military personnel there at the time. When he wrote the words, he must have known they could come back to haunt them – particularly in this day & age where no one can tell a falsehood, unless they’re in the government! Aren’t there bigger issues to be dealt with and talked about?

  5. Bonnie on February 10, 2015 at 9:28 pm

    I’ve found that you need to watch several news networks if you want all the news. Each network has it’s own agenda. The networks simply skip reporting news that doesn’t support what they want you know/believe. Making up stories takes that to another level. Brian Williams didn’t do this alone. There were other people aware that he lied who didn’t expose his lies. I have little faith that the news on NBC has any resemblance to facts, all the facts.

  6. Kathy on February 11, 2015 at 5:52 pm

    I can forgive him the lies and feel sorry for him but that does not mean I would easily trust him again.

  7. Joni on February 12, 2015 at 6:32 am

    I think they all report a distorted truth they are making a point with Brian Williams being right or wrong- i don’t think he will come back as the nightly anchor man!
    Reminds me of the fall Jim Trussel took for the OSU football team! In the end Jim came out ok!
    Hopefully Brian Williams will turn a negative into a positive!

  8. Kathleen Bylsma on February 12, 2015 at 1:17 pm

    Once trust is breached, it is very difficult to rebuild
    When discussing “news reporters”, given the nature of “news” today, I find it less troublesome than others. I seek my news from varied sources, comparing twixt the reportage and sources.
    With couples, we are speaking of a different colored horse altogether. That trust is sacrosanct and very difficult to rebuild. It can be done but it takes work.

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