Jewish World Review June 19, 2003 / 19 Sivan, 5763

Abe Novick

Martha Zoller
JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
James Glassman
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
Michelle Malkin
Jackie Mason
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Roger Simon
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

"Everything that deceives may be said to enchant" is as true as ever | In college I had a professor of philosophy who was a Jesuit priest who once declared, "There are at least four definitions of a lie." Now I'm sure he was trying to get his students to understand that, what seems true is not always so — something philosophers are very good at doing.

One of the oldest, and maybe most relevant examples, would be if I were to put a branch in the water. The water would make the branch appear as though it was bent. But of course, in reality, it's not.

In his own Aristotelian way, he was also rationally laying out the importance of making distinctions and how "true" and "false" are sometimes murky terms.

But "sometimes" is fast becoming "a lot more" of the time.

Tuning in to see the truth twisted and bent at every turn of the dial on TV is beyond common; it's ubiquitous. Today we have the once Queen of good housekeeping, Martha Stewart, stripped of her crown and fallen from her pedestal as CEO of her empire, Martha Stewart Omnimedia, for lying to the FBI and the S.E.C. We have the most trusted and venerable name in news, The New York Times, knocked down from its lofty perch due to the plagiarizing of one rogue reporter — Jayson Blair.

Now there's going to be a bi-partisan investigation to see if our government lied to us about WMD in Iraq, making us all question, again, if our government can be trusted.

Furthermore, it's all layered on top of a foundation of deceitful mud laid down over last several years.

First we had, and still are having, priests who cover up their sexual misdeeds with children. Shall we all say it in unison — priests?? CEOs who've rooked their employees and shareholders steal and make millions and get away with it!

We view all of the above through the glass tube of TV, like the water that bends the branch. How are we to distinguish between true and false, when so much of what we see is lies, spin and half-truth — never mind utter mendacity?

Rather than only four definitions, it would seem there are millions. But, for now, let's assume that there are at least four. There are of course the more obvious ones like when I knowingly lie to you, and you don't know it. Or when I don't know I'm telling you an untruth (how's that for euphemism) and you believe me. Or when I'm telling you what I think is true, and you know I'm full of B.S.

But perhaps the one that gives me the most pause, partly because it can be the most innocuous and most entertaining — while also the most nefarious, is if we both know I'm lying, but we go along with it anyway. As a society of consumers, we actually do this a lot. If you use such-and-such product, you'll immediately attract women, make more money, impress everyone you come across, etc.

I saw an ad on TV the other day for an outdoor grille with women surrounding the man who was the "grillmaster." In it, the women are stroking and rubbing not the man, but the grill. Granted, for a lot of guys, their grills are an extension of them and so the sexual innuendo is obvious. But on the other hand, I can't recall ever grilling in my backyard and looking up only to be surrounded by supermodels. And I could go on grilling for years, and I'm sure it ain't ever gonna happen.

It's pretty harmless stuff when taken in that context. And with a wink and a nod, this kind of suspension of disbelief occurs all the time.

But how far is it from there to a willingness to go along with a lie, even if you know, both logically and in your heart, that what's in front of you is like the bent branch? How far is it from there to knowingly being manipulated by a cause more harmful — say, a cigarette ad?

In our current media-engulfed world, we have to take it upon ourselves, individually, to look deeper, more critically and more rationally at what appears to be a shape-shifter and judge the outcome accordingly. After all, a willingness to disbelieve is why we go to movies, read novels and imagine.

On the other hand, distinguishing between what's a movie and what's not is really what my old professor was intending to impart. Of course he probably stole the idea from a guy named Plato who said, "Everything that deceives may be said to enchant." Plagiarism or wisdom? You decide.

Enjoy this writer's work? Why not sign-up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

JWR contributor Abe Novick is senior vice president of Eisner Communications in Baltimore. Comment by clicking here.

04/09/03: American media becoming embedded with the enemy?

© 2003, Abe Novick