Lies, the Truth, Culture and Ben Bradlee

Ben Bradlee was the legendary editor of the Washington Post at a time when the newspaper fought a battle with the U.S. government about the Watergate scandal, the exposure of which led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation. Bradlee believed in seeking the truth. As he wrote in a letter in 1973: “As long as a journalist tells the truth, in conscience and fairness, it is not his job to worry about consequences. The truth is never as dangerous as a lie in the long run. I truly believe the truth sets men free.” Many years later, while being interviewed for the Greek newspaper Kathimerini in June 2004, he feared the battle was lost: “I think I’ll write a book about lies. I’m really interested in lying, how socially acceptable lying has become not only for politicians, but also for bank managers, the president of the stock exchange and journalists. They don’t consider the price they pay is high. If they did such a thing when young…I remember my father used to take the hairbrush and spank me. I don’t think anything like that happens today.”

In that same interview, Bradlee, then 83, underscored how much the U.S. invasion in Iraq and George W. Bush’s presidency had influenced the political situation in his country. “I have never seen the United States so divided as it is today, not even during the war in Vietnam were the people so divided. Those who support the government on the Iraq issue are fanatics, and if one gets confrontational the atmosphere is so intense that the others run out of the room. That’s something unusual for the United States.” I do not know for sure if Bradlee, who died last Tuesday, wrote that book; at least, it does not seem to pop up in any bibliography. His personal opinion on the development of lying in politics and the economy would have been extremely interesting today. These days, I believe we could analyze how much more dangerous the truth has become compared to lies; the truth that has been adopted by various groups as the absolute truth, disregarding the truth and rights of others. We currently notice fundamentalism in modern politicians representing a broad spectrum of political opinions worldwide and even in jihadi, making lies seem far more innocent than some truths.

Lies are the liar’s confession that he has the same ethics as the person he is lying to, or at least he values such ethics. The liar knows that he has to cover up his actions, because a revelation would compromise one in the eyes of the other. The necessity of a lie proves the connection of the two sides.

When we come to the point where ties are broken and one side does not try or is not interested in trying to gain the other’s attention and approval, then there’s only the imposition of the will of the mighty. Adherents of fundamentalism believe they own the truth, that their God is the only God and that others have less value as individuals and members of a society. That is when there is conflict. The actions by the jihadi of the Islamic State show clearly that the only connection they have with their supposed enemies is in terms of subjugating and exterminating others.

In a small or large community, the ones who embezzle, cheat and abuse power for their own benefit have to cover up their tracks. If caught red-handed, society will impose punishment on offenders for violating the law. Concerning the Watergate scandal, Nixon was forced to resign in Aug. 1974, because the Washington Post’s investigative journalism revealed that the president was not being truthful when he stated he was unaware of the attempts to cover up the break-in at the Democratic National Committee’s Watergate headquarters. Washington Post reporters did their duty revealing the truth and wrote an important chapter in the history of the press and democracy. However, the Republican president’s dishonorable dismissal had further consequences. Conservative American citizens strongly believed the liberal political system used by the New York and Washington elite was waging war against the people. Slowly but steadily, both political life and the correlation between citizens and groups culminated in a lack of understanding, which is harming society as a whole. Indeed, the press has the duty to reveal the truth and go on pursuing it. Nevertheless, these days a lot of truth leads to fundamentalism, undermining lies, the truth, coexistence and culture altogether.

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