Batavick: Lying pervades our post-truth society

Never lie to your mother. That was what 12-time Olympic champion swimmer Ryan Lochte did when he covered up his late-night gambols by telling his mom that he and three other athletes had been robbed at gun point. When she leaked this story to the media and Rio authorities checked it, he was found to be lying. Consequently, Lochte lost four major sponsors and the U.S. Olympic Committee suspended him from swimming for 10 months.

Lies have been in the news a lot this year. Donald Trump specializes in calling his opponents liars, from labeling Ted Cruz "Lyin' Ted" to smearing Dr. Ben Carson as a "pathological liar." I guess it takes one to know one because neither of these former candidates can hold a candle to Trump when it comes to dissembling. According to non-partisan Politifact, 173 of Trump's statements during the Sept. 7 Commander in Chief Forum were false. Googling "Trump lies" will give you a list of 101 of his biggest whoppers.


Hillary's lies regarding her private email server are well-known, as is her bogus claim that during the 1990s she landed in Bosnia under sniper fire. Googling "Hillary lies" will give you a list too, though it pales next to Trump's.

According to Pamela Meyers, author of "Lie Spotting: Proven Techniques to Detect Deception," we live in a post-truth society where we are bombarded by dishonesty. We find it on the Internet with bogus profiles on dating sites and scandalous claims about politicians and celebrities. It pervades our personal relationships when so-called lies of convenience hide infidelities and deceit. And it's in our finances when we are attacked by scams and identity thieves. On a given day, we may be lied to anywhere from 10 to 200 times.

Meyers is CEO of Calibrate, and conducts training sessions for employees of financial institutions, insurance providers, law firms and human resource departments. She teaches their personnel how to spot liars using interrogation techniques and learning to be watchful of verbal and non-verbal cues and facial expressions.

Meyers asserts that we begin lying as babies when we fake a cry to get our parents' attention. We move on from there, honing our powers of deception. Studies show that strangers will lie three times during the first 10 minutes of meeting someone. Extroverts lie more than introverts, and men lie about themselves eight times more than women do.

Meyers also stresses that lying is a cooperative act. There can be no lie unless the other party agrees to believe you. This has relevant implications for how we perceive our political class. Voters have to agree to become part of the lie, whether it involves a wall along the Mexican border or an email server that was "set up in accordance with the rules and the regulations in effect."

One of the most famous lies in recent history is Bill Clinton's assertion, "I did not have sexual relations with that woman. Miss Lewinsky ... These allegations are false." Clinton's parsing gives him away. Meyers says that liars unconsciously resort to formal language, like the use of "did not." They also distance themselves from a wrongful act. Using the phrase "that woman" is an example of distancing language. And by citing a single example, as in "Miss Lewinsky," Clinton is too specific. That's because he was unable to give a categorical response that he had never had sex outside marriage.

I have a confession to make. Like Ryan Lochte, I lied to my mom. In 1971, I was a grad student at the University of Maryland, College Park, and living in graduate housing off U.S. Route 1 with my wife, 2-year-old son and infant daughter. That spring another series of anti-Vietnam War demonstrations rocked the campus, and on May 5, thousands of students blocked U.S. 1, a main thoroughfare into Washington. When the local police and National Guard dispersed them and began making arrests, some protesters ran into our building and hid. State troopers fired tear gas into the residence to dislodge them, and it seeped into our first-floor apartment.

My mom in South Jersey saw the College Park protests on the nightly news and telephoned us to see if we were OK. Blinking my stinging eyes, I said, "Yea, don't worry. That trouble is not happening anywhere near us." For the rest of her life, she never learned the truth.

Frank Batavick writes from Westminster. His column appears Fridays. Email him at