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October 23, 2009

Wretchard's Four Rules of Lying

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Inspired by the squabble between the Associated Press and Shepard Fairey, creator of the iconic three-color (pale blue, light red-orange, white) poster of Obama, Richard Fernandez ("Wretchard") muses about the issue at hand and the general matter of lying here.

You might well wish to read the whole piece, but below I extract Wretchard's four rules for public lying.

1. The first and most important thing is for the impostor to claim the motivation of revolutionary impulses. That way even those who know he is lying will think he is lying in a “good” cause. If the last refuge of scoundrels is the flag, the ultimate protective banner is the Red Flag. Hannah Arendt once wrote “Lies are often much more plausible, more appealing to reason, than reality, since the liar has the great advantage of knowing beforehand what the audience wishes or expects to hear.” Find the hole in your audience’s brain and drive your truck of manure through it.

2. The second rule is to put forward the most extravagant claims. Don’t be half-assed about lying. The more extravagant the fib the better. A sufficiently resourceful fraud clears his path of unbelievers by sheer audacity alone. Tell a big enough lie and no one would believe you could be so bold. As the fictional Rudolf Rassendyl proved in the Prisoner of Zenda that it is better to pass yourself off as King of Ruritania rather than a minor noble. A minor noble may be questioned, but the King will not be. It is all or nothing. And given that no one wants to tug at the Royal Robe to see if it is real ermine, the fraudster often gets it “all”.

3. The third rule is that when questioned, destroy the questioner. When impersonating the King be determined to have everyone who doubts your identity thrown in the tower for treason. Once you succeed in beheading the first challenger there will be no second challenges.

4. The fourth rule is the most important. Avoid trying to bluff those who are too big to be faced down. What undid both Fairey and Ward Churchill was that they didn’t know when to stop their imposture. They finally took it too far. Fairey, who had been successful up to that point tried to bluff his way past a major news organization and failed. Ward Churchill was already a professor when he made his “little Eichmanns” speech after 9/11 unleashed a tide of outrage he couldn’t outface. If Fairey had not launched his poster and Churchill had not made his “little Eichmanns” speech, they might still be intellectuals in good standing.

Most lying is small-scale, which might be what makes Wretchard's thoughts interesting: we seldom think about huge lies and the liars that speak them.



posted by Donald at October 23, 2009


A friend of mine says that he knows someone who lies by instinct; lies when it seems to make no sense, when you can't see what on earth he can hope to gain by it. The liar is an accountant by trade, who went into the University administration game.

Posted by: dearieme on October 24, 2009 8:27 AM

The Big Liar indicted by the linked article is Shepard Fairey, an artist in the Warhol mode, claiming fair use and aligned with the "Appropriation Art" movement ... Sherrie Levine, Jeff Koons, Richard Prince, etc. all being contemporary exemplars of this large group.

Not that any of this is particularly new. Coincidentally, just before arriving at 2Blowhards I followed a link provided by Arts & Letters Daily to ARTnews discussing paintings created by Chinese artists copying Gilbert Stuart's iconic portrait of George Washington that were done during Stuart's lifetime. ... and subject to controversy from that time (circa 1800) to this.

Further digging on the ARTnews site led me to another article detailing the tale of the "Stockholm-type">¤t=True">"Stockholm-type Brillo Boxes" - a group of Brillo box facsimiles attributed to Warhol, but actually produced after the artist's death under the direction of a curator long associated with Warhol. This gets us into territory where the chain of appropriation and proper attribution is as disorienting as a hall of mirrors.

Perhaps, however, the intent of the Fernandez piece was less to delve into the arcane realm where intellectual property rights meet the appropriate artistic use of appropriation, but was more a vehicle for slamming the subject of the portrait, Obama himself, rather than the overlapping intellectual property rights interests of the AP, the AP photographer, and Shepard Fairey.

Certainly the "Four Rules of Public Lying" lead more toward thoughts of political leaders serving up Big Fat Lies and repeating them until they become accepted truths in the public mind ... the connection between Iraq and the attacks of 9-11 springs immediately to mind, along with that African yellow cake.

But wait, that was ... oh, never mind, I forgot only lefty losers like me think that the flagrant, bold, lying of the previous administration that fits so perfectly the Four Rules offered by Fernandez should still matter.

In case my coding is somehow bad, here are those URLs.¤t=True

Posted by: Chris White on October 24, 2009 9:41 AM

Fernandez knows what he is doing. Invoking the Bush administration when discussing the current administration is a weak thing to do. Repeating the "Bush lied" canard is weaker still.

Posted by: Larry on October 25, 2009 5:33 PM

Canard - a false or baseless, usually derogatory story, report, or rumor.

Ah, so there WMD were found in Iraq, whose leader had been provided support to the 9/11 hijackers.

Why Clinton's "I didn't have sex with that woman." was grounds for impeachment proceedings and Bubba Bill remains a target a decade later, but W and Co. should now be considered ancient history baffles me. And certainly in a posting ABOUT lying that uses an appropriation artist who designed an Obama poster as a means to make a proxy attack on Obama pointing out the credibility problems of the last administration that used repeated dissemination of distorted or untrue statements to guide the public toward desired conclusions would seem relevant.

Posted by: Chris White on October 26, 2009 8:33 AM

All Bush's lies did was get us into a costly and long-term war. Clinton's lies, on the other hand, were about SEX!! And not just regular sex, but BLOWJOBS!!

I hope I've cleared up your confusion, CW.

Posted by: JV on October 26, 2009 4:05 PM

JV -- I'm curious. Could you please tell us what things Bush said that were known by him to be false at the time he said them?

That is, if he believed certain things to be true when he spoke and they were later shown to have not been true, then he was not lying. To me, there's a large difference between being mistaken and being deceitful.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on October 26, 2009 6:14 PM

I fully admit that I have no actual proof that he lied; but I strongly believe he did based on the preponderance of evidence that has come about since the Iraq war began. And I think it's established that the Bush administration emphasized and twisted certain facts, while ignoring others, to influence the American public to support the Iraq war.

Posted by: JV on October 26, 2009 6:53 PM

In less than five minutes of web surfing, while avoiding blatant wing-nut propaganda sites, one can find any number of credible sources offering evidence of Bush Administration lies or distortions. The most egregious may be those aimed at influencing the American public to back plans to attack Iraq, plans that essentially seem to have been leftover from Bush 41's Gulf War, but which were not executed then when, after reclaiming Kuwait, coalition forces withdrew to the pre-war border. In the aftermath of 9-11 these lies, including the relentless linking of Saddam and the hijackers, despite their actual known ties to Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, gave the administration the excuse to "do something" that hardliners like Cheney and Rumsfield wanted to do a decade earlier.

There may not be a YouTube clip of W. & The Dick high-fiving in the Oval Office after a press conference to celebrate their success at putting another whopper over the American people, but this does not mean the statements of Bush 43 and those closest to him were innocent mistakes based on bad intelligence or by holding naive beliefs that in the end proved to be at odds with actual facts.

Here are two facts [note dates] and how Bush used them, they represent the very tip of an enormous iceberg:

In September 2002, the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency concluded “there is no reliable information on whether Iraq is producing and stockpiling chemical weapons, or whether Iraq has – or will – establish its chemical warfare agent production facilities.”

The Washington Post reported ... that a secret, fact-finding team of scientists and engineers sponsored by the Pentagon determined in May 2003 that two small trailers captured by U.S. and Kurdish troops were not evidence of an Iraqi biological weapons program. The nine-member team “transmitted their unanimous findings to Washington in a field report on May 27, 2003.”

BUSH: We recently found two mobile biological weapons facilities, which were capable of producing biological agents. [Bush, 6/5/03]

BUSH: We found the weapons of mass destruction. We found biological laboratories. [Bush on Polish TV, 5/29/03]

CHENEY: We had intelligence reporting before the war that there were at least seven of these mobile labs that he had gone out and acquired. We’ve, since the war, found two of them. They’re in our possession today, mobile biological facilities that can be used to produce anthrax or smallpox or whatever else you wanted to use during the course of developing the capacity for an attack.

The point stands that in linking to Fernandez/ Wretchard's post on the Shepard Fairey – AP intellectual property rights flap ... a piece that seemingly seeks to smear Obama with the brush of being a liar, and perhaps a commie, through innuendo and guilt by association ... and all over an artistic argument about when "fair use" becomes "plagiarism" that has been going on for centuries (as the ARTnews link on the Chinese copies of Gilbert Stuart's portrait of Washington demonstrates) ... and concluding the posting with the statement; Most lying is small-scale, which might be what makes Wretchard's thoughts interesting: we seldom think about huge lies and the liars that speak them. opens the door to ask whether we should be more concerned over whatever lies and distortions Obama might make or whether, in light of the on-going repercussions still taking place on multiple battlefields in the Middle East as a direct result of the "huge lies and the liars that did make them, that we should still be asking questions about the previous occupant of the White House.

No doubt Obama and his Administration will produce its own series of distortions and outright lies over the course of his term(s) in office. What Administration has not? Thus far it would seem those may involve Obama, the supposed "socialist", bailing out the uber-capitalist oligarchs of Wall Street at a too high cost to average taxpayers. But so far, any lies here are far more speculative than well documented. If we are being asked to think, as we seldom do, about "huge lies and the liars that make them" then certainly the lies of W. & Company and the result of those lies should be thought about long and hard and not dismissed as somehow mere partisan sniping that is no longer relevant since the copter whisked George away from the White House on Jan. 20.

Posted by: Chris White on October 27, 2009 11:00 AM

Christ Whiter-Than-Thou!

Jesus, you haven't been around for a while.

Still doing the Professor Irwin Corey routine, too! Foreign policy genius! And you say that you are not a prototypical Woodstock hippie. Foreign policy expertise is one of the defining characteristics of that breed.

Nice to know that, in this ever changing world, some things remain the same.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on October 27, 2009 11:59 AM

Just discovered that Professor Irwin Corey is still alive, albeit 95 years old.

He recently disrupted Soupy Sales funeral and had to be removed from the podium, lest he continue to pontificate about health care reform.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on October 27, 2009 12:45 PM

Sigh. Chris was gloriously absent for a while, but despite the passage of time, has returned with the same old same old sameness of the oldness.

Chris White will be going on about the Bush administration into the next-after-next-after-next administration...unless it's Republican, in which case he'll have a new target on which to vent his indomitably unchanging and "non-partisan, independent" spleen.

Let no one say THIS TOO SHALL PASS. With Chris W, nothing from the Bush era will ever pass away. Ever.

Posted by: PatrickH on October 27, 2009 3:10 PM

Nice to see the Shouting One and our friend from the North, too. In the area of reading comprehension ... again ... please note that I presume Obama will lie to us and probably already has.

Since many on the right including, if memory serves, both ST and Patrick (although I may be wrong), have lobbed criticisms at Clinton, Carter, LBJ, and JFK over their veracity and other failings, why should the giant whoppers served up during the past eight years be taken off the table? If, in the debate over the proper way to deal with our current financial crisis, a figure as distant in time as FDR can be dragged in to be tarred and feathered in absentia, why should GWB not be brought up since we are still fighting on multiple fronts as a result of his administration's insistence on regime change in Iraq as a response to a terrorist attack on US soil by a group of jihadists primarily from Saudi Arabia inspired by a Saudi in Afghanistan?

I guess only us brain dead Woodstock-type hippies think the distortions and lies of Bush 43 & his homeboys vis a vis Iraq ... where we still have in excess of 120,000 troops and a similar number of "civilian contractors" ... are still relevant.

Posted by: Chris White on October 27, 2009 5:12 PM

"With Chris W, nothing from the Bush era will ever pass away. Ever."

Patrick, we're still neck-deep in the very direct consequences of decisions made by the Bush administration. It's not ancient history be a long-shot, and discussing them is still totally relevant when discussing the Iraq/Iran situation; which, I'll give you, was a bit of a tangent with regards to the topic of this post.

Posted by: JV on October 27, 2009 5:23 PM

JV, the recourse to Bush-bashing as a direct immediate response to any criticism of Obama reveals its dishonest intent and its status as nothing more than a rhetorical maneuver. It will be used to deflect criticism of Obama until another convenient Republican whipping boy comes along. Hence my prediction that Chris and his ilk will be reflexively trotting out Bush lied canards until they have another tool in their arsenal. Note my objection: not that Bush didn't lie (I think he didn't, but he clearly disregarded due diligence to determine the truth, and that's almost as bad), but that his crimes, real or imagined, will be used for no other reason than to take the heat off The Suit That Walked Like A Man.

All the while of course, the employer of the maneuver claiming to be non-partisan and independent. Well, by his reflexes shall you know him. And his knee jerk spasms betray his political leanings every time.

After all, it's only his left knee that ever jerks.

Posted by: PatrickH on October 28, 2009 12:02 PM

My original response was primarily about Fairey, fair use, appropriation art, and the intersection of these topics going back at least to unauthorized copies of one of Gilbert Stuart's iconic portraits of George Washington. I offered two ARTnews links, one about the unauthorized Stuart copies and the other about faux Warhol Brillo Boxes. I concluded with the observation that, in the context of the original essay, it seemed an effort was being made to link Obama to lying, a classic "guilt by association" move, and noted that if one were looking for examples of following at least three of the rules of lying on a grand scale that the Bush administration would be the place to start, Obama is only getting warmed up.

No one responded with a critique of appropriation art from an anti-modernist perspective. No one weighed in on the validity or lack thereof of a copy of a Warhol that was itself a copy of a Brillo Box designed by another artist as part of his "day gig". Larry said "Bush lied" is a "canard", which is a fancy way of saying a lie.

You go with what you're given, so I pointed out one of the more egregious examples of Bush & Co. dissembling to influence the American people to accept invading Iraq as a reasonable response to 9-11. ST offered up a string of stale insults, recycled from nearly any exchange we've ever had on 2BH, and Patrick sighed about how Bush 43 is ancient history.

Talk about knee jerk reactions.

BTW, I've already alienated a few classically liberal friends by expressing my disappointment with Obama over his unwillingness to fight harder for a true overhaul of the US healthcare system and his acceptance of the "too big to fail" POV that keeps the same oligarchs in control of our economy. But, hey, why should facts ever get in the way of a strongly held belief?

Posted by: Chris White on October 28, 2009 3:51 PM

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