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Illustration: Lie
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In 2016, Lies, the Whole Lies and Nothing but the Lies

Dec 08, 2016
Ideas
Joel Stein writes a weekly column for TIME magazine. His book, Man Made: A Stupid Quest For Masculinity, changes people’s lives.

Lying used to be dangerous. Your nose might grow, your trousers could combust or a wolf might eat you. But this year, lying proved profitable, even for those who got caught. After a deluge of fake news stories, concocted debate facts and ads at the bottom of Internet articles for stories about how I will not believe what 1990s celebrities look like now when they actually look just like I thought they would--a lot of people are saying that 2016 was the Year of the Lie. If lying had been this acceptable in 1789, George Washington would have had the President's residence constructed entirely of free cherrywood.

Oxford dictionaries chose post-truth as the word of the year. Is that true? Is there even an "Oxford Dictionaries"? Facts like that don't matter in a year when people cared so little about lying. Mendacity created so little furor that for the first time in 34 years, no one bothered to start a rumor that Abe Vigoda had died, possibly making Abe Vigoda feel so ignored, it caused him to die. The Chicago Cubs were embraced despite being caught lying for 71 years about being cursed by a goat, when their real problem was that no one in the organization had ever thought to hire all the executives and players from the Red Sox.

Pro-Brexit ads on the sides of buses--many of which were twice as high as normal bus ads--claimed that Britain paid £350 million every week to the E.U. and would redirect that cash to the National Health Service; most people knew neither was true, but it didn't stop Brexit from winning. Hillary Clinton spun such an enormous, complicated web of cover-ups about her email server that not one person understood what she had done, including Hillary Clinton. North Carolina got away with passing a law by lying about men lying about being transgender to peep at women in bathroom stalls--which wouldn't even make sense if free porn didn't exist.

Senate Republicans kept their majority even though they wouldn't vote on confirming Supreme Court appointee Merrick Garland because, Mitch McConnell said, it is necessary to "let the American people decide" this, even though the Constitution specifically says the American people should definitely not decide this. Brock Turner lied about sexually assaulting an unconscious woman at Stanford and got convicted, but served only three months in jail. Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte claimed men with badges robbed him at gunpoint in Rio, though it turned out it he just got yelled at by a gas-station attendant for vandalizing the bathroom. Yet weeks later he was on Dancing With the Stars, an honor second only to being President, according to the actions of Rick Perry, who signed up for the show after quitting the race.

The Year of the lie was great for the National Enquirer, which Donald Trump has written for since it is run by his friend. The paper reported that Clinton suffered from multiple sclerosis, depression and alcoholism. Infowars editor Alex Jones--whose radio show Trump loves and appeared on--believes that the moon landing was faked, 9/11 was faked and the Sandy Hook massacre was faked. And also that it's O.K. to run your Cyber Monday sale of Infowars' Super Male Vitality Formula way past Wednesday.

Trump mastered the lie. He saw Muslims in New Jersey celebrate the falling of the Twin Towers. He claimed that Clinton started the birther movement instead of him. He vowed to save $300 billion a year from Medicare's prescription-drug program, which costs $78 billion a year. After he won the presidency, he lied that millions of people had voted for Clinton illegally. It was the kind of year when you could even lie about being cheated after you won.

The only thing you were punished for this year was telling the truth. Larry Wilmore's Comedy Central show was canceled. James Comey decided to be totally up-front about every single thing he was thinking about and got persecuted for it. And a bunch of fact-checking organizations covered the election, only to be made fun of for being nerdy elites who care about facts.

It was a better year to be a columnist than a reporter. I look forward to at least four more.


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