The Democratic National Committee released an advertisement yesterday that accused Republicans of attempting to “steal” the forthcoming elections by using billions of dollars of foreign money to sway voters. The accusation would be devastating, if it were true. Unfortunately for the DNC, they apparently have not a shred of evidence to substantiate their claims and appear to have just flat out lied – as desperate as it is despicable. (They doth protest too much: in 1997, the Justice Department launched an investigation in illegal campaign contributions to Bill Clinton emanating from Chinese government officials. In the end, more than a dozen people were convicted – others fled the US to avoid prosecution – and the names Charlie Trie, James Riady and Johnny Chung might ring a bell.)
Why do people often tell such bald-faced lies ? And is there a way to deal with them ?
We recently experienced that phenomenon. The contretemps involving the local “Jewish” newspaper on its publication of a same-sex marriage announcement elicited statements from some internet sources that the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County (RCBC, of which I am a past president) threatened merchants under our kosher supervision that if they did not cease their advertising in that offensive journal, the RCBC would withdraw our supervision. Indeed, a very powerful accusation, with one slight problem.
It was and is completely false. Not only is it false, but such an issue was never even raised in any of our discussions, no such threats were ever imparted to any merchant and to my knowledge no one even thought of such an idea. It was a complete fabrication, a lie, made up out of whole cloth, without any semblance of truth, utterly baseless.
For that reason, I will not even print the name of the internet site (that claims to report “Jewish news”) that first published the lie, nor the names of the others that propagated the lie. They are unworthy of mention, clearly dishonest, inappropriate and unreliable vehicles for any decent person attempting to learn anything about anything.
Sad to say, the internet lends itself to that type of contemptible conduct. Many hosts hide behind a façade of anonymity, and there is simply no way to hold them accountable. They fire their rhetorical rounds with reckless abandon. People can write anything, whether false or even libelous, and then others cite the original source as if it had real substance and authority. That dark corner of the internet has become a wonderful vehicle for social misfits, axe-grinders, lapsed Jews, yeshiva dropouts, failed writers and small thinkers.
Lying is always an indication of disrespect towards both the subject of the lie and the target audience. It reflects the petty jealousies that often encumber bitter, unhappy people, as well as unresolved anger towards the disfavored targets or institutions – especially rabbis, parents, ex-spouses or ex-bosses. It is simply appalling, but the attraction to those sites – like to anything salacious or sensational – reflects poorly on the spiritual seriousness of the reader who dabbles in sin while thinking himself above it all.
Words and pens are powerful instruments that shape minds and mold opinions and can make or break relationships. Like anything else meaningful in life, they should be used with great care and a sense of responsibility. But like most other areas of life today, the sense of personal responsibility about anything seems to be dormant, if not non-existent altogether.
Nevertheless, we have an obligation to expose falsehoods and those who spread them, to challenge them to produce names and dates (in this case, the merchants in question and the Rabbis who approached them). I will go out on the limb and suggest that no such names will ever be offered, because they do not exist and never have existed.
King David prayed: “G-d, save me from lying lips and a deceitful tongue” (Psalm 122:2). Man is limited in his ability to overcome falsehoods, especially when the liar’s motivation is impure and some readers’ willingness to accept those lies is limitless. Lies often sound better than the truth, certainly have to be more creative, and usually spread like wildfire. It was Winston Churchill who said that “a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”
And it is not even the substance of the lie in question that is so troubling. I am not averse to boycotting something I find offensive, and encouraging others to boycott as well. It is just one simple fact that irritates: the event in question just never happened, and yet it was reported as if it did happen – like the DNC and their pathetic accusations against the Republicans. To which we should say to them, and to all other liars, as Joseph Welch said to Sen. Joseph McCarthy as the latter’s hearings were falling apart under the weight of some of his false accusations: “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”
So, I put it to you, liars: “Have you no sense of decency ?”