Veracity Matters, Part I.
Nine Ways To Know If Your Politicians’ Lips are Moving
Remember that joke – “How do you know if a politician is lying? His lips are moving!” The following are my tried and true ways to get to the truth, learned over fifteen years in public service. When I was studying for my communications degree, I learned that it takes three exposures to a message to get the attention of the public. Now, 40 years later with the overstimulation created by electronic messaging, political consultants say the message must be received seven times before entering the consciousness of voters.
However, the “3 Times” test served me efficiently as an elected representative. Once I heard something three times from members of the public who were independent of one another, I knew it was of enough constituent importance to take to the next level. Conversely, when I receive information, or when my research or experience alerts me to a “red flag,” my policy is to keep it to myself if it has not passed my “3-Times (or more)” test. When I resigned my council seat because there was so much corruption I could no longer participate without turning a blind eye, I did not speak to the media without a 6-Times verification on my part and six additional sources from an investigative journalist.
Here’s how I apply my 3-Times (or more) Rule to get to the truth, or to at least expose Red Flags and to verify the gist of a story.
- Repetition – if something is reported to me three times by credible inside independent sources who do not know or have associations with one another, I consider it to have merit. So far, this method has not failed me. Most people reporting information are sincere, concerned, and reliable insofar as they believe what they report to be accurate.
- Incongruity – a red flag. My senses automatically alert to incongruities. I have observed that the truth, integrity, open government, and human behavior is congruous. The behavior and reports, written or spoken, by government staff and our elected representatives should not only be consistent, but the source should seek to make it clear and easy to understand. Incongruities in reporting or the character of individuals are the red flags to follow up. As an example, my son, as a small child had an aversion to those friendly costumed characters you see at children’s events who sidle up for a photo op. He said it is scary when someone dresses up as something they are not and tries to hug you. To this day, because my family has chosen to support my path of speaking the truth, regardless of the personal consequences, I am thankful that my son is hyper-alert to incongruity. Sometimes people who have not done their homework deem it “paranoia.” It is something entirely different, even the opposite. Paranoia is a fear of what is not real. Intuition alerting to incongruity is a perception of what is present but disregarded by others. Proclaiming the calling-out of incongruity “paranoia” is the mechanism by which the guilty shut down their accusers and the general populace sees no evil.
- Association – incongruities alert to red flags, and conversely, so does congruity. Look at people, their businesses, their associates, their partners. People are drawn to people like themselves. “Make no mistake about this: ‘bad company is the ruin of good character.’ Lack of association is as informative as association. If there is no information online or in social media, it may indicate that someone has expunged their record or is trying to fly under the radar. Nowadays most people have something on Facebook or Google. If what is out there appears too “canned” it may have been manufactured to deceive.
- Projection – what does someone say about you? A psychoanalytical theory, projection is the process whereby one person projects onto another, their own attributes, whether good or bad. Listening to those who call you sneaky, question your motives or call you a liar may provide insight into how they operate. A classic example is a quote of former Clovis, California City Councilmember Leif Sorensen, accused of several counts of government malfeasance. LA Times reporter Mark Arax ended his July 7, 1995 feature article on developer and government collusion with a quote from Sorensen, who, quoting the Good Book and projecting his fear while proclaiming his innocence, said, “A false witness shall not be unpunished and he that speaketh lies shall not escape.” In June 1996, following multiple witness accounts of pay-to-play, and a bevy of charges, Sorensen entered “guilty” pleas of Extortion Under Color of Official Right, and Obstruction of Justice.
- People tell you who they are – when they project their own actions and attributes onto others, when they are caught off-guard, when they don’t know when to stop talking and give too much away, or when they are tired, or under the influence of alcohol. A wise friend once counseled me, if someone says to you, ‘I’m not a very nice person,’ believe them or at least don’t harbor expectations they will be nice. In a recent homeowners’ association meeting the association attorney took over the meeting and not knowing when to stop, admitted about $150,000 in legal bills, “I’d like these court cases to continue because that’s how I make my money!” He confessed to not only a conflict of interest but a conflict he turned to his financial advantage by encouraging the board to keep litigating!
- It’s not funny – the attorney in the above example may now say, “I was just joking!” No, you weren’t. The truth is in whatever comment you made that you had to excuse by calling it a joke.
- Interpretation – know the language of political discourse. The truth is there; often understated, spoken quietly. Just as in other spheres, government has its jargon; sometimes a shortcut, as in the preponderance of anagrams, other times intended to deceive, or divert attention, delivered as confusing or boring text, buried in the small print, or even as a subtext running in conversations. For example, if the mayor wants to avoid a touchy subject, he will send it back to staff for further study. Sometimes this is legitimate; sometimes it is a way to stall the conversation or stop it altogether without appearing to do so. I will write more about “weasel words” in a future post.
- Context – when seeking to understand the actions of individuals I consider the wider context – the big picture, countywide, statewide, nationally, to understand how circumstances may drive their decision-making or statements.
- Patterns – of behavior or speech can betray a source or confirm an activity or relationship. When a turn of phrase or pattern of action is effective, it is repeated over and over. You can identify associated parties by their turn of phrase, tone of voice, mannerisms, writing style, terminology, delivery, or by hearing the same story from informers or victims time and again. I remember my skin crawling when I listened for the first time, to an interview on public video. The speaker sounded almost identical to his former colleague, charged with felony conflict of interest. I had heard that the speaker was a protégé of the felon. Hearing the speaker, almost a “mini-me,” I knew I needed to look more closely at their association.
Next week I will post eleven more. How do YOU discern the truth?
The Honorable Debbie Peterson is the author of “The California Cake & Cookie Cookbook” and “Great Scotswomen in Business” She served for 15 years as the Mayor, Councilmember, and Planning Commissioner of a small town in California.