The Lie That Dare Not Speak Its Name

This is my favorite headline of the year: Mullenax Says He Misspoke About Son, Job. That’s one way to put it.

There’s another, more direct, verb one might use when describing a declarative falsehood later retracted. This is not a criticism of my friend and Ledger schools reporter John Chambliss, whose story on Thursday brutally lays out School Board Member Dick Mullenax’s bout of, ahem, misspeaking, about his efforts to get his son a job with the school district. I expect that “misspoke” was the verb everyone in Ledgerland settled on through an abundance of caution.

But this does highlight one of the problems institutional print journalism faces. Too often, it must deny, or at least choke down, accurate description of the obvious. See the supposed distinction between torture and enhanced interrogation. You would think that an industry whose product is words would use them forthrigthtly. But a variety of legitimate concerns often conspires to keep that from happening. Anyway, John’s story is really good, euphemism not withstanding.

This passage is classic:

Mullenax said his mistake was not divulging information to The Ledger. He said that when he talked to a reporter Monday evening, his cell phone battery was low and he was late for a Bible study class. When he returned home from Bible study, his wife asked him about the conversation with The Ledger. When Mullenax told her, his wife corrected him and said he had talked to Williams about their son.

Apparently, a dying phone battery can suck memories from your brain, particularly if they are inconvenient. Who knew? But physics is a weird and fascinating science. And I’m not remotely sure how the physics of Bible study contributed to that process. But, apparently, studying the pitfalls of bearing false witness somehow trumps actually not bearing false witness.

What a mess.

20 thoughts on “The Lie That Dare Not Speak Its Name

  1. Well Said!

    We’d have a lot less suspect activity among out elected officials and public figures if we could consistently find the cojones to call a “spade a spade.”

    Too frequently, spin and political correctness (or fear of litigation or losing advertisers) seem to trump good reporting.

  2. Well Said!

    We’d have a lot less suspect activity among out elected officials and public figures if we could consistently find the cojones to call a “spade a spade.”

    Too frequently, spin and political correctness (or fear of litigation or losing advertisers) seem to trump good reporting.

  3. The mainstream media does not have a problem. They are honest and objective. It’s your so-called New Media that is the problem. You cover what you want and write what you want. There are no checks and balances. There are no editors to check your work for accuracy and objectivity.

    You do have the right to write whatever you want. The problem is that people read a website such as Lakeland Local and think they that what they are reading is being reported as fact, when it is nothing more than the writer’s opinion.

  4. The mainstream media does not have a problem. They are honest and objective. It’s your so-called New Media that is the problem. You cover what you want and write what you want. There are no checks and balances. There are no editors to check your work for accuracy and objectivity.

    You do have the right to write whatever you want. The problem is that people read a website such as Lakeland Local and think they that what they are reading is being reported as fact, when it is nothing more than the writer’s opinion.

  5. Bob? Is that you? The Bob? Bob G? Let me say point blank, with absolute seriousness, if you or anyone else sees an error of fact in anything I’ve written, email me or comment and point it out. I promise to take it seriously. And if I’m wrong, I’ll cop to it and correct. I think I’ve always done that. If there’s an episode where I haven’t, please let me know.

    If I don’t live up to that standard, call me out on it on one of the endless millions of other outlets. If this is Bob G., you have a pretty useful one yourself. That’s the great thing about new media, if you think you can prove I’m a lying hypocritical ball of bad faith, go for it and let the marketplace decide.

  6. Bob? Is that you? The Bob? Bob G? Let me say point blank, with absolute seriousness, if you or anyone else sees an error of fact in anything I’ve written, email me or comment and point it out. I promise to take it seriously. And if I’m wrong, I’ll cop to it and correct. I think I’ve always done that. If there’s an episode where I haven’t, please let me know.

    If I don’t live up to that standard, call me out on it on one of the endless millions of other outlets. If this is Bob G., you have a pretty useful one yourself. That’s the great thing about new media, if you think you can prove I’m a lying hypocritical ball of bad faith, go for it and let the marketplace decide.

  7. No, I’m not Bob G. I apologize for offending you.

    I was merely trying to point out that blogs such as yours are different from newspapers such as The Ledger.

    Take a pill.

  8. No, I’m not Bob G. I apologize for offending you.

    I was merely trying to point out that blogs such as yours are different from newspapers such as The Ledger.

    Take a pill.

  9. You didn’t offend me. There’s nothing to apologize for. I was just making sure you knew that you can always engage on these types of issues and expect me to take it seriously. Please keep commenting.

  10. You didn’t offend me. There’s nothing to apologize for. I was just making sure you knew that you can always engage on these types of issues and expect me to take it seriously. Please keep commenting.

  11. Bob,

    Let’s start with a common ground:

    Blog: an online diary; a personal chronological log of thoughts published on a Web page: – Webster’s New Millennium™ Dictionary of English

    newspaper: a publication issued at regular and usually close intervals, esp. daily or weekly, and commonly containing news, comment, features, and advertising — Dictionary.com Unabridged
    Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006.

    If you truly believe Lakeland Local is a “blog” you’re not using the common understanding of the word.

    Check out the definitions above. Lakeland Local is published on a regular basis. It contains news, comment, features , and whoops. No advertising.

    Check out your newspaper. The Ledger is published daily. It contains news, comment, features, and advertising.

    Except for a matter of scale, and medium, they’re similar to this point.

    What about honesty, objectivity, and accuracy?

    If you believe Lakeland Local writers are not honest, then I challenge you to point to specifics.

    If you believe Lakeland Local writers are not objective, then can you show me a newspaper you believe is objective? Wait, before you answer that, I’ll remind you of a definition of objective: “not influenced by personal feelings, interpretations, or prejudice; based on facts; unbiased:”

    Do you believe there is no bias in what a newspaper covers or doesn’t? Do you believe personal feelings never direct how an editor assigns a story or chooses which stories to print, and which to leave on the table? Can you honestly say that newspapers never interpret? There is no prejudice in coverage?

    If you can answer “yes” to all those questions, then I will believe you simply are unaware how newspapers really function, and that you do not read the Ledger, the Orlando Sentinel, and the Tampa Tribune.

    Look how differently each of those papers have covered the CSX issue. If they had zero bias, if there was no interpretation, then each would have written the same articles. Each would have come to the same conclusions. Yet, they did not.

    Were they each accurate? Do you really believe each is objective?

    Bias exists in news gathering. It always has. It always will. The smart readers knows the bias of their news sources and account for it. The new media is more honest about coverage bias than our predecessor. Surviving traditional media is even more upfront about their coverage biases.

    As for accuracy, much like your daily newspaper, we depend on the reporters to make sure they get the facts straight when they submit their articles. As with your daily paper, we encourage readers to identify errors. Also, like your daily paper, we publish corrections if we find an error.

    Now, call this site a “blog” if you like. It’s inaccurate. I’ve pointed out why. But if you continue, it’ll be your interpretation; your bias. And I’ll account for that.

  12. Bob,

    Let’s start with a common ground:

    Blog: an online diary; a personal chronological log of thoughts published on a Web page: – Webster’s New Millennium™ Dictionary of English

    newspaper: a publication issued at regular and usually close intervals, esp. daily or weekly, and commonly containing news, comment, features, and advertising — Dictionary.com Unabridged
    Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006.

    If you truly believe Lakeland Local is a “blog” you’re not using the common understanding of the word.

    Check out the definitions above. Lakeland Local is published on a regular basis. It contains news, comment, features , and whoops. No advertising.

    Check out your newspaper. The Ledger is published daily. It contains news, comment, features, and advertising.

    Except for a matter of scale, and medium, they’re similar to this point.

    What about honesty, objectivity, and accuracy?

    If you believe Lakeland Local writers are not honest, then I challenge you to point to specifics.

    If you believe Lakeland Local writers are not objective, then can you show me a newspaper you believe is objective? Wait, before you answer that, I’ll remind you of a definition of objective: “not influenced by personal feelings, interpretations, or prejudice; based on facts; unbiased:”

    Do you believe there is no bias in what a newspaper covers or doesn’t? Do you believe personal feelings never direct how an editor assigns a story or chooses which stories to print, and which to leave on the table? Can you honestly say that newspapers never interpret? There is no prejudice in coverage?

    If you can answer “yes” to all those questions, then I will believe you simply are unaware how newspapers really function, and that you do not read the Ledger, the Orlando Sentinel, and the Tampa Tribune.

    Look how differently each of those papers have covered the CSX issue. If they had zero bias, if there was no interpretation, then each would have written the same articles. Each would have come to the same conclusions. Yet, they did not.

    Were they each accurate? Do you really believe each is objective?

    Bias exists in news gathering. It always has. It always will. The smart readers knows the bias of their news sources and account for it. The new media is more honest about coverage bias than our predecessor. Surviving traditional media is even more upfront about their coverage biases.

    As for accuracy, much like your daily newspaper, we depend on the reporters to make sure they get the facts straight when they submit their articles. As with your daily paper, we encourage readers to identify errors. Also, like your daily paper, we publish corrections if we find an error.

    Now, call this site a “blog” if you like. It’s inaccurate. I’ve pointed out why. But if you continue, it’ll be your interpretation; your bias. And I’ll account for that.

  13. If you consider lakelandlocal a news site, you’ve mispoke. it’s irresponsible journalism to post totally fabricated information, such as the “fictional letter” posted earlier this week by billy townsend, as well as his responses to comments to this post. your contributors don’t know the meaning of the word objective. the thing is by commenting on any of your posts, we’re all making your day. the best thing we could all do is not read your blog at all.

  14. If you consider lakelandlocal a news site, you’ve mispoke. it’s irresponsible journalism to post totally fabricated information, such as the “fictional letter” posted earlier this week by billy townsend, as well as his responses to comments to this post. your contributors don’t know the meaning of the word objective. the thing is by commenting on any of your posts, we’re all making your day. the best thing we could all do is not read your blog at all.

  15. I think it also is worth mentioning that out of the six contributors here on Lakeland Local, three of us have journalism backgrounds, and two of us used to write for The Ledger. One of us still freelances for The Ledger. I think it is difficult for someone with a formal journalism background to NOT continue to approach writing in the spirit of a reporter, where facts and accuracy matter.

    Bob, I find your insinuation mildly offensive that because we don’t have a major newspaper masthead, we can’t possibly be reporting facts.

  16. I think it also is worth mentioning that out of the six contributors here on Lakeland Local, three of us have journalism backgrounds, and two of us used to write for The Ledger. One of us still freelances for The Ledger. I think it is difficult for someone with a formal journalism background to NOT continue to approach writing in the spirit of a reporter, where facts and accuracy matter.

    Bob, I find your insinuation mildly offensive that because we don’t have a major newspaper masthead, we can’t possibly be reporting facts.

  17. As a practitioner of the so-called New Media, liberated from the restraints you claim are imposed on reporters still working within the “institutional print journalism,” how would the headline over the Mullenax story read if you had written it? In responding to this question, don’t worry about being guided by the same “abundance of caution” that you claim may have inhibited your former Ledger colleagues. I look forward to seeing the headline that would have appeared over the very same story if you had broken it in your new role as a member of the enlighted and liberated New Media.

  18. As a practitioner of the so-called New Media, liberated from the restraints you claim are imposed on reporters still working within the “institutional print journalism,” how would the headline over the Mullenax story read if you had written it? In responding to this question, don’t worry about being guided by the same “abundance of caution” that you claim may have inhibited your former Ledger colleagues. I look forward to seeing the headline that would have appeared over the very same story if you had broken it in your new role as a member of the enlighted and liberated New Media.

  19. Hi Ken: Good to talk to you again. That’s a bit of a roundabout way to ask: “OK, smartypants, how would you have done it?” But it’s a fair question.

    Much would depend on the specifics of the conversation I had with the person involved. Mullenax does earn some points for coming back to John of his own accord. Based on John’s account in the story, I think I would have used a headline in the paper like this: “Mullenax acknowledges false statement about son, claims to have misspoken”

    On this site, I probably would have asked a question: “Did Mullenax lie about his son?…”

    Then within the story, either here or in the paper, I would have been sure to have a statement that read something like this: “Asked if he had lied, Mullenax sid no and blamed the false statement on faulty memory.” I do think it would be important to get the word lie into print if just to give Mullenax the chance to refute it.

    You seem to want to defend someone here, but I’m not sure who and why and from what. In Mullenax’s case, it’s tough to feel sorry for a guy who all circumstances point to abusing his public trust and then lying about it. I do give him credit for having a conscience if that’s why he called back. In The Ledger’s case, there’s nothing to defend. I complimented John’s story and made it explicitly clear I wasn’t criticizing him or The Ledger. I was really sympathizing with them. I got out of the business largely because of those constraints I mentioned.

  20. Hi Ken: Good to talk to you again. That’s a bit of a roundabout way to ask: “OK, smartypants, how would you have done it?” But it’s a fair question.

    Much would depend on the specifics of the conversation I had with the person involved. Mullenax does earn some points for coming back to John of his own accord. Based on John’s account in the story, I think I would have used a headline in the paper like this: “Mullenax acknowledges false statement about son, claims to have misspoken”

    On this site, I probably would have asked a question: “Did Mullenax lie about his son?…”

    Then within the story, either here or in the paper, I would have been sure to have a statement that read something like this: “Asked if he had lied, Mullenax sid no and blamed the false statement on faulty memory.” I do think it would be important to get the word lie into print if just to give Mullenax the chance to refute it.

    You seem to want to defend someone here, but I’m not sure who and why and from what. In Mullenax’s case, it’s tough to feel sorry for a guy who all circumstances point to abusing his public trust and then lying about it. I do give him credit for having a conscience if that’s why he called back. In The Ledger’s case, there’s nothing to defend. I complimented John’s story and made it explicitly clear I wasn’t criticizing him or The Ledger. I was really sympathizing with them. I got out of the business largely because of those constraints I mentioned.

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