Beck Eleven: The fine art of alternative facts, falsehoods, deceit, misrepresentation, and spin

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer removes lint from Senior White House Advisor Stephen Miller's jacket as he waits ...
JOSHUA ROBERTS

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer removes lint from Senior White House Advisor Stephen Miller's jacket as he waits to go on the air in the White House Briefing Room.

OPINION: Every buzzword has its day.

You know like that time we had a crop of bad weather and everybody called it a "weatherbomb"?

That's fine because it's only one word. It does the rounds for a bit then disappears into obscurity until the next time we need it.

"The ability to stare into a camera and tell a bald-faced lie seems to be a prerequisite for staff in Donald Trump's ...
JOSHUA ROBERTS/REUTERS

"The ability to stare into a camera and tell a bald-faced lie seems to be a prerequisite for staff in Donald Trump's administration."

Or it might be little phrases, like when former Prime Minister John Key kept telling us that "at the end of the day" this or that would of no concern to "most New Zealanders".

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Thanks to President Donald Trump, a man who bragged braggadociously about knowing "the best words", we are seeing the rise and rise of the word "lies". Thankfully we're getting a bit of variation as reporters mix it up to avoid repetition.

We're hearing about alternative facts, falsehoods, deceit, misrepresentation, and spin. Whatever you call it, some people are not offering up the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me Lordy.

American poet Bill Copeland said: "When you stretch the truth, watch out for the snapback" and I suspect we are about to see one hell of a snapback in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

The ability to stare into a camera and tell a bald-faced lie seems to be a prerequisite for staff in Donald Trump's administration.

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You might have caught a clip of senior Trump adviser Stephen Miller this week. He appeared on American news shows last Sunday staring down the barrel of cameras, presenting with all the personality of a man who had cordially invited a body snatcher to use his flesh for the weekend.

There was something disarming about Miller, barely blinking while presenting no evidence around claims of voter fraud while still telling people "you will not deny it".

So while White House staffers try to figure out lies from the truth, it might be worth remembering we're not so innocent ourselves.

We tell lies on a daily basis. Not whopping big ones that might see us destroy a nation's reputation but ones on the softer side of the spectrum, little white lies, fibs.

Years ago, I wrote about lies and the art of lying.

I spoke to American academic Bella DePaulo who had been studying lies and deception for more than three decades.

She told me complete truth was neither possible, nor desirable.

According to DePaulo, we spend our days exchanging pleasantries and opinions, creating particular impressions of ourselves, reassuring others, winning friends and influencing people – and we do all this on the back of little white lies.

One of her studies showed that on average, people tell one lie for every four social interactions.

But don't feel bad. The majority of us don't have a devil's forked tongue.

She concluded lying was perfectly ordinary and usually done for altruistic reasons, to save other people's feelings, proving we value kindness over honestly.

Throughout her studies, she found that most commonly, people lied to hide their true feelings.

Secondly, people were being covert about their actions, plans, or whereabouts.

Thirdly, we lie to make ourselves sound more knowledgeable or mask our failings.

We also regularly lie about our workloads to make life easier in the office.

During the 2010 interview I conducted with DePaulo, she said: "Lies are a bit like wishes. When we wish we were a certain type of person we can either do the hard work of trying to become that person but the shortcut is to lie."

However, she said people who tell many lies tend to be manipulative and irresponsible, caring more deeply about what others think, and they are more extroverted.

Last year a psychologist at University College London studied lying. Hooking participants up to brain scans, he found the more a person lied, the more desensitised they became to lying which spurred them on to telling more.

Facial expressions and body language might go some way towards betraying a liar but most of us are not tuned to notice such subtle behaviour.

Lies are barely perceptible through speech hesitations or changes in vocal pitch, a twitch, a scratch, a blink or a fidget.

Now, it's election year in our delightful little country so we are going to have to watch our politicians and commentators very carefully to make sure the rot doesn't set in here.

And honestly, you guys are the greatest. 

 - Stuff

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