National Commentary

‘Mendacity’ in War, Politics & the Media

nfbenton-mug“Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death – ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life. One is responsible for life: It is the small beacon in that terrifying darkness from which we come and to which we shall return.” – James Baldwin.

In his own, comparable way, the great American playwright Tennessee Williams identified the problem at the core of society’s problems as “mendacity.”
“Mendacity” has a whole array of options to describe its meaning. It is basically lying.

But put more completely and colorfully, it is “the act of not telling the truth,” or “the tendency to lie,” or “deception, beguilement, deceit, bluff, mystification and subterfuge as acts to propagate beliefs of things that are not true, or not the whole truth,” or “a statement known by its maker to be untrue and made in order to deceive,” and so on.

“Mendacity” also includes things knowingly not said that should be. Journalists Judith Miller and the late Robert Novak, who withheld crucial information about the Valerie Plame scandal, in so doing no doubt influenced the outcome of the 2004 presidential election.

Now, it is tragic to see the extent to which our public discourse, including in the first Republican so-called presidential debate tonight, is riddled with mendacity. It is almost expected. No one is supposed to tell the truth, but to say what they think will gain them an advantage as they breathlessly scamper through the years of their lives running away from death. How do you know who’s being honest, or better, how honest?

Not from the media, which faces a particularly sad state of affairs in this fading democracy. The numbers are these: 1,500 newspapers, 1,100 magazines, 9,000 radio stations, 1,500 TV stations, 2,400 publishers are owned by six corporations. That’s it. Ninety percent of what 277 million Americans see, hear and read is controlled by these six corporations.

It is hardly questioned now that Fox News can unilaterally dictate who is included in a presidential debate, or that the Koch Brothers can stipulate to the media that they can attend, but not report on the hundreds of millionaires invited to their mansion for a pitch, and that the media passively comply.

It’s the same for the entertainment industry.

Emily Yahr of the Washington Post did a good job this week writing about how journalists are ordered to withhold truths, or not ask questions about them. “Directed Not to ‘Ruin the Fun,’ Interviewers Go Easy on Stars,” is the headline of her August 3 article, and it focuses directly on the ban imposed on journalists wanting to ask Tom Cruise questions about his continuing deep involvement with Scientology, something that even the iconic Jon Stewart had to cave to on his “The Daily Show.”

Cruise, Yahr wrote, is now making the media rounds for his latest hit movie “several months after HBO’s Scientology documentary ‘Going Clear’ accused the church (and by extension Cruise, its most famous member) of some horrific behavior. The church denied everything, yet Cruise hasn’t been able to answer any or dodge any questions about the documentary – because he hasn’t been asked about it at all. It’s the extremely obvious elephant in the room and it’s impossible to overlook.”

So, what is the truth about anything? Maybe the popularity of Donald Trump is related to the public’s growing perception that it can’t trust anyone, especially politicians and the media, the ones they’re supposed to the most. Trump’s rise is symbolic of a big public middle finger to all of this.

Behind this charade, this cacophony of the damned, are those who don’t care if anyone thinks they are lying, cheating and blithely ruining countless lives in the process: Wall Street and the dogs of war.