And Never, Ever Lie to Your Mother

Scooter Libby: You can't lie to a grand jury or the FBI.
Scooter Libby: You can't lie to a grand jury or the FBI. (Chris Greenberg - Bloomberg News)

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By Linton Weeks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Who can you lie to anymore?

Let's run through the list: You . . .

. . . Can't lie to a grand jury or the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Scooter Libby found that out the hard way yesterday when he was declared guilty of perjury, obstruction of justice and lying to the FBI in the government's investigation of a leak that revealed a CIA operative's identity.

. . . Can't lie to the Securities and Exchange Commission. Martha Stewart did time for fibbing to the feds in March 2004 about selling shares of ImClone just one day before the value of the stock tanked.

. . . Can, however, lie to the American people. President Bill Clinton told the country, finger awagging, that he did not have sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky.

. . . Can lie to Congress. Tobacco company executives stood in front of the august body in 1994 and, under oath, said that nicotine was nonaddictive and that they knew of no studies linking cigarettes to cancer. The Justice Department tried to prove that the suits had lied, but the executives insisted that these were their personal viewpoints.

The telling of lies falls into two categories: lies that betray a relationship and lies that sustain one, says neuropsychiatrist Charles V. Ford, author of "Lies! Lies!! Lies!!!: The Psychology of Deceit."

He says, "One of the lies that is usually morally accepted is a lie of loyalty."

There are degrees of lies, including lies of convenience and little white lies. Obviously we are less likely to tell a lie, he says, if we think we may get caught.

Some athletes have been accused of lying to Congress about steroid use and getting away with it. Ohio State tailback Maurice Clarett was suspended from college in 2003 for not telling NCAA investigators the truth about accepting improper benefits.

On a grand scale, you can lie to the United Nations. Some countries have apparently conned U.N. inspectors about weapons and capabilities. On a small scale, you can do a little prenatal prevarication. Carmela Bousada lied to her doctor about her age -- saying she was 55 -- in order to receive fertility treatment. The Spanish woman, who is really 67, is now known as "the world's oldest mother."

You can lie to editors and readers. For years, reporter Jayson Blair misled editors at the New York Times into believing he had been places he hadn't been and had seen things he hadn't seen. He was caught in 2003. In 1996, journalist Joe Klein staked his credibility on his insistence that he did not write the novel "Primary Colors." He did.

But you can't lie to Oprah. When it was discovered last year that James Frey's autobiography "A Million Little Pieces" was fictionalized, he confessed on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and, according to reports, Frey and the book's publisher, Random House, offered refunds to readers who felt cheated.

Lying to the Internal Revenue Service is a mistake. So is lying on your résumé. "But people do that about half the time and they get away with it most of the time," says Ford. Still, there it is for all eternity, just waiting to be truth-squadded.

You can lie to your children. If they knew every naked truth about their parents, they would surely revolt. And if you told them the facts about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny at too young an age, the whole economy might collapse.

You can lie to your spouse, but you shouldn't because you can end up lying in the doghouse.

Is it possible to lie to yourself? "You can certainly try to," says Bella DePaulo, a social psychologist at the University of California at Santa Barbara. "The question is whether you can ever get the knowledge you are trying to hide so far out of your awareness that you really don't know it's there."

Lying to yourself, she says, is almost like performance art. "If other people start responding as if you don't know, it's almost as if you really don't know."


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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