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If Their Lips Are Moving They Must be Lying

by on June 30, 2014 6:00 AM

This week we learned from Gov. Tom Corbett that he never "condemned" former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno for the alleged decisions Paterno made during the Sandusky scandal at Penn State.

In an interview last week with the Associated Press, Corbett, who is running for re-election and who sits as ex-officio member of the Penn State Board of Trustees, stated that he regretted the board's decision in November of 2011 to fire Paterno over the phone but minimized his own role in the decision.

In the interview, Corbett stated "Since that date the only thing I have said about Joe Paterno is I've quoted him. As he said, I wish he would have done more. I've not condemned, one way or the other, never have, never will. These are unusual circumstances."

He also said that his only contribution to that fated decision was to remind the board about the child victims.

At the time of Paterno's firing, Corbett, who participated in that fateful board meeting in a telephone hook-up, was quoted as saying that Paterno and former Penn State President Graham Spanier's " actions caused me to not have confidence in their ability to lead."

That sure sounds like a condemnation to me.

Do these guys forget about video, the internet and our ability to pull up past statements and comments with a couple of key strokes on a computer?

The saying goes that the only way you can tell a politician is lying is to check and see if his or her lips are moving.

A recent Supreme Court decision seems to support if not encourage our acceptance of politicians as liars. In a case that involved an anti-abortion group in Ohio and their billboard stating that a particular candidate running for office supported "tax funded abortions" because he had voted for the Affordable Care Act, the Supreme Court essentially said that not telling the truth in campaign materials is protected by the First Amendment. According to the decision, statements or advertising in a political campaign can offer that side's version of the truth and it's basically up to voters to figure what is fact and what is fiction.

Although we tolerate – and perhaps expect – politicians to lie, we don't tolerate lying in other areas of our culture.

Also in the news last week was Dr. Mehmet Oz who was called before the US Senate's subcommittee on Consumer Protection to testify about claims that he made about health-related products on his talk show, particularly in the area of weight loss. I've never watched his show but he is reportedly known to identify "the next best thing" in helping his viewers lose weight, most recently some green coffee bean extract. Dr. Oz was called out during the hearing by the elected officials who sit on the committee for "misrepresenting" the research behind the claims as well as the benefits of the products that he endorses on his show.

It would be hilarious if it wasn't so frightening. A celebrity who is allegedly untruthful in promoting a "miracle" weight loss product is called out by politicians – politicians who not only have the ability to influence policy and practice in our nation but who have just been given permission by the Supreme Court to "exercise their freedom of speech rights" and legally distort the truth.

A snake oil salesman who tries to take my money seems way less dangerous than a politician who lies about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq or a Youtube video being the cause of the death of four American lives in Benghazi.

Wouldn't it be interesting if we applied "truth in advertising" standards to politicians?

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) oversees all forms of advertising and decides what businesses can claim about their products. According to the FTC, anything that impacts consumer health or our money through promises made in selling or advertising a product falls under the truth in advertising guidelines. When something suspect or potentially fraudulent comes up "the agency files actions in federal district court for immediate and permanent orders to stop scams; prevent fraudsters from perpetrating scams in the future; freeze their assets; and get compensation for victims."

Consider Kevin Trudeau, late night infomercial huckster, radio personality and author of "The Weight Loss Cure They Don't Want You To Know About." Trudeau was sued and eventually fined millions of dollars by the FTC for the false claims he made in that book as well as others (and in his stumping of those books on TV). Trudeau is currently serving a 10 year sentence related to those charges.

On the other hand, we have become so complacent about politicians playing loosey-goosey with the truth that there is an annual "Biggest Lies" compilation each year of the whoppers told by politicians. CNN identified the "If you like your health plan, you can keep your health plan" as the biggest whopper of 2013.

If a politician lies about healthcare or taxes or the need for our country to engage in war, doesn't that also impact consumer health and money? What stops scams, prevents fraudsters from perpetuating scams and gets compensation for victims in political untruths?

Instead of demanding the same level of truth and integrity that we expect from Madison Avenue, we let the people on Pennsylvania Avenue (and on N. 3rd Street in Harrisburg) give us their current version of the story or issue or event – rather than demanding accountability for the truth. We worry about government intrusion in free speech and in oversight of elections and political propaganda. So, the lies just keep on coming.

They are going to keep doing it until we stop letting them.

I think Governor Corbett really meant to say "I'm trying to get re-elected and I'm hoping if I sugar coat some of the decisions I made in the Sandusky scandal that the PSU faithful will have short memories and the general public's tolerance of politicians who lie will help me stay in the governor's mansion for 4 more years."

After all, it's only about the truth.

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Patty Kleban is an instructor at Penn State, mother of three and a community volunteer. She is a Penn State Alumna. Readers of State College Magazine voted her Best Writer of 2010 and 2012. She and her family live in Patton Township. Her views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State.
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