Checking the lies and falsehoods of national leaders is part of the territory in modern political journalism and commentary.
By the time Donald Trump grumpily exited the White House in January, The Washington Post’s famous list of presidential lies had reached an astonishing total of 30,537.
In Britain, there’s a range of compilations of Boris Johnson fibs to choose from including his “top 10 lies” from his first year as prime minister and a video of him lying to parliament, which has had more than 10 million viewings.
It’s not just in the Anglosphere you can find these lying eyes – Russia’s Vladimir Putin is famous for deploying an old Soviet tactic known as the “firehose of falsehood”, which describes the unleashing of a tsunami of lies and falsehoods to confuse and confound enemies and the public generally.
This makes the release today of Crikey’s A Dossier of Lies and Falsehoods – covering 16 documented lies and 11 falsehoods from Prime Minister Scott Morrison, all backed with referenced source – surprising only because it is overdue.
Crikey has been careful, only picking those matters they can back with documented facts and evidence.
Crikey draws an important distinction between lies, which are used to intentionally mislead, and falsehoods, which were untrue or turned out to be so.
It’s a generous interpretation for a politician who has made avoiding the truth, letting falsehoods slip and bending reality part of his standard operating procedure.
Writing in The New Daily, I argued late last year that Mr Morrison can lie easily because he has the ability to convince himself his untruths are factual.
You can demonstrate he is lying but he believes he’s telling the truth – if he says it’s not raining, grab an umbrella.
It’s a frustrating and infuriating state of affairs but, to quote another famous political purveyor of porkies, Donald Trump, it is what it is.
Crikey’s Bernard Keane goes to the heart of why this matters, claiming Mr Morrison lies openly and frequently.
“(He does so) about matters large and small – Australia’s carbon emissions, or an inquiry in relation to a sexual assault within the ministerial wing in Parliament House, or simply whether he spoke to someone who refused to shake his hand,” Keane says.
“Most of his lies are about himself, or his government, and what it has done, or failed to do; often he has lied about things he himself has said or done, as if he wasn’t present when a woman refused to shake his hand and he turned his back on her, or he didn’t carefully explain to Parliament that the secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet had given him no update about his report in relation to Brittany Higgins.”
There are many ways Mr Morrison deploys his falsehoods, but the most common come under four threads.
Most blatantly is that bald-faced denial of reality when he simply says something didn’t happen or doesn’t exist. It’s rolled out with firm conviction making a challenge appear impudent.
Next Mr Morrison quickly changes the subject after a swift, hardly perceptible, denial. A quick “no, but if you look over here” moves the discussion along and is then smothered in a word salad.
Third, is the “I’m too busy” for that tactic, as seen in the false denial he ever called Sam Dastyari “Shanghai Sam” when he deflected by saying “I’ve got to say my focus was on the bushfires”.
Last, Mr Morrison loads his response with numbers and assertions regardless of whether they are related or even relevant.
It does matter when our politicians lie, especially if they’re in positions of leadership. However, it doesn’t seem to matter that much because of COVID cover protecting most politicians.
Historically, record-high approval ratings for the Prime Minister and premiers around the country have given our leaders a measure of unprecedented protection.
While politicians like Mr Morrison fulfil – or even just appear to fulfil – those twin demands of keeping the community safe through proactive health policies and cushioning any economic fallout, the public seems to have otherwise unavailable reserves of tolerance and forgiveness.
Giving politicians a leave pass for bad behaviour – whether it is doing it or lying about it – carries a heavy price.
It tells those politicians they can get away with it and encourages them.