Forget Trump, NZ has had its share of liars

Justice Peter Mahon reports on the 1979 Air New Zealand Erebus disaster. Photo: ODT files
Justice Peter Mahon reports on the 1979 Air New Zealand Erebus disaster. Photo: ODT files
Should we as a society accept being lied to, asks Russell Garbutt, of Clyde.

Lying, fibbing, misleading, falsifying, misrepresenting, dissembling. We all know what these words mean, but I got to wondering in an idle moment just how we as a society are treating those who indulge in lying.

A few specific examples sprang to mind. The obvious one at the start was the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump. Not a day passes when he says something, or a string of things, which are easily shown to be falsehoods.

Often the lie is reinforced by another even bigger lie. It is hard, if not impossible. for an individual living in the United States to hold the President to account for lying.

That job often falls to the fourth estate but here President Trump simply extends his behavioural shortfalls by claiming any newspaper or TV channel that points out his lies is part of what he calls ''fake news''. What he says he has are ''alternative facts''. Another way of saying this is to say if you repeat a lie often enough it becomes the truth. Shades of George Orwell's 1984.

When I grew up, lying was considered a serious misdemeanour and dealt with by a variety of punishments. Those who consistently lied were viewed as being not nice people.

Better to tell the truth and accept any punishment - something a past president of the United States, George Washington, learned when he confessed, as a 6-year-old, he had cut down a cherry tree. He learned telling the truth was much more highly valued by his father than the sapling.

I began to wonder whether there is a certain level in society where lying becomes required and expected and, indeed, accepted by society. And if this is the case, at what level does this occur? Further, just what safeguards has society put in place to protect itself from those who use lying as part of normal behaviour?

New Zealand has had several high-profile cases where institutional lying has been demonstrated. I still remember the day when Justice Peter Mahon read his report into the Mt Erebus Air New Zealand disaster. He said he had been ''forced reluctantly to say that he had to listen to an orchestrated litany of lies''.

The Arthur Allan Thomas case remains a prime example. Senior police planted a cartridge case and then lied to achieve a conviction.

Yet another example is the ongoing disgrace that is Pike River, where corporate and individual lying was brilliantly exposed in Rebecca MacFie's book on the tragedy.

These pinnacles of lying also expose a chilling truth. Those who indulged in lying at this incredible level almost never are held to account for their lies. Indeed, it was Justice Mahon who ultimately suffered mainly at the instigation of then Prime Minister Rob Muldoon, a close friend of Air NZ CEO Morrie Davis.

And the police officer who planted the evidence and lied was later described by a police deputy commissioner as having ''integrity beyond reproach''.

While these may be high profile cases, I have often come across situations where spokesmen, CEOs and board chairmen have consistently and often publicly lied. Just a few days ago, I listened to an old Radio NZ interview where, in the space of a few moments, the chairman of an entity really made me believe Donald Trump had somehow metamorphosed into a Dunedin identity.

Nearly everything said in the interview is now demonstrable through time to be completely false. Needless to say, the perpetrator was never held to any form of account.

We often hear that we, as a society, need to ignore the lies and ''move forward''. All that says to me is that we are being told that we should accept lying. Should we?


Most leaders of a country do lie or twist the truth .Don't forget trump give the military the go ahead to sort issis . and just about have. unlike last us. leader....but its not pc or trendy to say when trump does good. is it..

They mean 'move forward' into the New Normal: whatever a 'Leader' says is True, becomes The Truth. Even the demonstrably provable is 'fake news'. The World has been here before. We must be a very Suggestible species.