"I don't know whether to believe you or General Singlaub, to believe you or Ambassador Tambs. It's not my job to decide whether you or the other one is honest. But someone is not being honest with us."

-- Sen. Daniel Inouye to Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams

INOUYE, CHAIRMAN OF THE Senate Iran-contra committee, is the Diogenes of our day. You remember Diogenes. He was the Greek guy who set out with a lantern to look for an honest man. He failed to find one. Inouye set out with a klieg light to look for an honest man in the Reagan administration, and he didn't fare much better.

He did, however, manage to illuminate a truly awesome quantity of obfuscations, prevarications, falsifications, evasions, disingenuousness, half-truths, untruths, bosh, balderdash, baloney, blarney, buncombe, hokum and just plain lies.

Connoisseurs of the lie agree: 1987 was a banner year, a vintage year, a truly bountiful harvest of humbug. It wasn't just Pennsylvania Avenue that produced them. Lies also emanated from Madison Avenue and Wall Street and Main Street and Heritage U.S.A. Americans may have a tough time competing with foreigners in the production of steel and shoes, but we're definitely holding our own in the fabrication of fabrications.

"There's a sucker born every minute," that great American hypester P.T. Barnum observed a century ago. Today, in his native land, it sometimes seems that there's a P.T. Barnum born every minute.

This is as it should be. America is the land of the free and the home of the whopper. Lies are as American as Beech-Nut apple juice, as patriotic as Ollie North. America is the birthplace of the snake-oil salesman, the riverboat gambler, the shyster lawyer, the stock swindler, the used-car dealer and the friendly stranger who'd be glad to give you a good deal on the Brooklyn Bridge or some scenic underwater Florida real estate. The good ol' U.S.A. is the home of the tall tale, the campaign promise, the loophole, and the small print that taketh what the large print giveth.

Remember: If it weren't for official lies, Indians would still own your backyard, and they'd have legal title to it "as long as grass grows and water flows."

Of course, America isn't the world's sole purveyor of sham, just the most efficient. In totalitarian countries, the government holds a monopoly on lying. But in America, under our great free enterprise system, any citizen with enough initiative and dishonesty is free to produce his own prevarications and foist them on a gullible public in our great marketplace of malarkey. The other side may have the Big Lie, but we have lots of little lies.

And some not so little lies, too. This year's crop could win some blue ribbons, even in international competition.

But there are, alas, no international competitions in the art of mendacity. And so, by public demand, we now convene the Academy Awards of Untruth. And we hereby present our own honors in various categories of canard-mongering and cock-and-bull storytelling: MOST CONVENIENT TEMPORARY LOSS OF MEMORY THE WINNER:

John M. Poindexter FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER At the Iran-contra hearings, Poindexter, who was once praised by his Navy commanders for his "photographic memory," responded to questions by saying, "I can't recall" or "I don't remember" no fewer than 184 times. He did this while puffing on a pipe, thereby giving new meaning to the phrase "blowing smoke." BEST CONCOCTION OF BOGUS ACADEMIC CREDENTIALS THE WINNER: Joe Biden SENATOR "I think I have a much higher IQ than you do," Biden, then a presidential candidate, told a man who had the gall to ask what law school the senator had attended. "I went to law school on a full academic scholarship," he said. Then he claimed that he finished in the "top half" of his class, that he was the "outstanding student in the political science department," that he "graduated with three degrees."

Pretty impressive. Unfortunately, it wasn't true. Biden received a half scholarship based on need; he finished 76th out of 85 in his class; he didn't win the outstanding political science award; and he received only one degree.

In the light of those revelations, doesn't the IQ statement seem a bit dubious, too? MOST DISINGENUOUS EXPLANATION BY AN EGOMANIACAL REAL-ESTATE

BARON FOR HIS WELL-KNOWN PROPENSITY FOR SLINGING BALONEY THE WINNER: Donald Trump BUILDER OF HIDEOUSLY UGLY MONUMENTS TO HIMSELF While promoting his ghost-written autobiography Trump: The Art of the Deal, the tycoon claimed that 200,000 copies of the book had been printed, that the "Today" show was planning to feature him in "five segments" and that the issue of New York magazine that carried an excerpt from the book was "the biggest seller they ever had." Pretty impressive. Alas, it wasn't true. Actually, 150,000 books were printed, two segments were aired and the magazine sales figures were not yet in. But, as Trump says in the book: "A little hyperbole never hurts. I call it truthful hyperbole. It's an innocent form of exaggeration -- and a very effective form of promotion." MOST OUTRAGEOUS CLAIM OF QUASI-DIVINE POWERS THE WINNER: Oral Roberts EVANGELIST "I won't tell you how many of the dead have been raised under my ministry," Roberts said last summer. "I had to stop and go back in the crowd and raise the dead person so I could go on with my service." Then he added this truly delicious afterthought: "It did improve my altar call that night." BEST ALIBI BY A MARRIED MAN FOR A VISIT TO THE HOME OF A COMELY YOUNG LADY THE WINNER: Marion Barry MAYOR After hizzoner, wearing a cap emblazoned with the word "Mayor," visited Grace Shell, a 23-year-old model who declined to admit him into her apartment, his aides released a statement saying that Barry had really been interested in seeing Shell's son. Shell was dubious. "My son is 3 years old. He does not know, nor does he even care, who the mayor of Washington is." BEST FICTITIOUS CLAIM OF EXPERT CORROBORATION THE WINNER: Shere Hite SEX RESEARCHER AND AUTHOR OF WOMEN AND LOVE Defending her much-maligned statistical methodology on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" -- where else? -- Hite claimed that the president of the American Sociological Association "said that my methodology is great." Queried about that, Herbert Gans, the president of the ASA said he hadn't read Hite's book, hadn't endorsed her methodology and that her statement was "a lie." WORDS MOST LIKELY TO BE EATEN AND LEAST LIKELY TO BE ENJOYED THE WINNER: Gary Hart FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE "Follow me around," Hart told a reporter who asked about his alleged womanizing. "I'm serious. If anybody wants to put a tail on me, go ahead. They'd be very bored." MOST CREATIVE USE OF THE PHILOSOPHY THAT THE BEST DEFENSE IS A GOOD OFFENSE THE WINNER: Jim Bakker TELEVANGELIST Bakker, who quit the PTL ministry in the wake of a messy sex scandal, later claimed that his resignation had nothing to do with that affair. "We resigned because of a much larger problem than this," he said. "We learned that there was going to be a hostile takeover of the PTL ministry. The complete game plan of those enemies of PTL fell into our hands." He characterized the plausibility of this story thusly: "Friends told me if it were fiction no one would believe it." His friends were right. LEAST CREDIBLE ATTEMPT TO BLAME IT ON THE MEDIA THE WINNER: Tammy Faye Bakker EVANGELIST AND MASCARA ABUSER "The media is sick and needs help badly," Bakker said during the unfolding of the PTL scandal. "Ninety-nine percent of what they have printed or said about Jim and Tammy Bakker bears no truth whatsoever. All they are are just made-up things." MOST BLATANTLY BOGUS BUDGET CUT THE WINNER: The 100th Congress Our elected representatives, showing unusual creativity, changed the pay day of America's 2.1 million active-duty military personnel from the last day of the month to the first day of the month. Consequently, the checks scheduled to be paid on Sept. 30, the last day of fiscal 1987, were paid instead on Oct. 1, the first day of fiscal 1988, thus "saving" nearly $3 billion from the Defense Department's 1987 budget. BEST EXCUSE FOR TELLING THE POLICE THAT YOU SAW A WOMAN THROW AN INFANT OFF THE JOHN PHILIP SOUSA BRIDGE AND THEN JUMP IN HERSELF THE WINNER: Brady R. Scott D.C. RESIDENT Scores of police officers and fire fighters dragged the Anacostia River for hours in search of the bodies. Then, according to District police, Scott claimed that he had made up the story to explain to his wife why he was late coming home. BEST PUBLIC DIALOGUE ON THE ISSUE OF LYING THE WINNERS: Lt. Col. Oliver L. North AND George Van Cleve MINORITY COUNSEL FOR THE IRAN-CONTRA COMMITTEE The dialogue:

Van Cleve: "You've admitted before this committee that you lied to representatives of the Iranians . . ."

North: "I lied every time I met the Iranians."

Van Cleve: "And you admitted that you lied to General Secord with respect to conversations that you had with the president? Is that correct?"

North: "In order to encourage him to stay with the project, yes."

Van Cleve: "And you admitted that you lied to the Congress. Is that correct?"

North: "I have."

Van Cleve: "And you admitted that you lied in creating false chronologies of these events. Is that correct?"

North: "That is true."

Van Cleve: "Can you assure this committee that you are not here now lying to protect your commander in chief?"

North: "I am not lying to protect anybody, counsel. I came here to tell the truth." BEST EXCUSE FOR MISLEADING CONGRESS THE WINNER: Elliott Abrams ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE On Nov. 25, 1986, when Abrams was asked by a congressional committee if he knew of any foreign government that was aiding the contras, he neglected to reveal that he had personally solicited the promise of a $10 million contribution to the contras from the government of Brunei. During the Iran-contra hearings last summer, Abrams was asked to explain why he hadn't revealed the solicitation. "I felt I did not have the authority to do that," he explained. "I felt I was not supposed to do that . . . As I have stated several times, I did not believe I was authorized to . . . reveal that solicitation."

Will somebody please authorize this man to tell the truth? MOST MISLEADING EXPLANATION FOR MISLEADING CONGRESS THE WINNER: Lt. Col. Oliver North FORMER WHITE HOUSE AIDE During the Iran-contra hearings, North admitted that he had previously lied to a congressional committee about his knowledge of contra operations and justified that act by claiming that Congress could not be trusted to keep secrets. As an example, he claimed that "a number of members of Congress" had leaked details of the interception of the Achille Lauro hijackers -- leaks that "very seriously compromised our intelligence activities." That sounded pretty convincing until Newsweek, which had first published the details of the Achille Lauro interception, revealed that those details had been leaked not by a congressman but by North himself. BEST RESPONSE BY A PRESS SECRETARY IN THE FACE OF EVIDENCE OF OFFICIAL OBFUSCATION THE WINNER: Marlin Fitzwater PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESMAN For months, the White House had claimed that arms were sent to Iran not as ransom for hostages but as an opening to "Iranian moderates." Then, in February, a secret memo revealed that an Israeli official had confided to Vice President Bush that "we are dealing with the most radical elements" in Iran because "we've learned they can deliver and the moderates can't." Asked by reporters if this meant that the administration would stop referring to its Iranian contacts as "moderates," Fitzwater replied: "I'm not going to rule in or out any terms. We'll probably use it and probably, maybe not use it." BEST RESPONSE BY A CORPORATION IN THE FACE OF EVIDENCE THAT ITS OFFICIAL ADVERTISING SLOGANS WERE, WELL, NOT QUITE TOTALLY ACCURATE THE WINNER: Delta Air Lines Not too long ago, Delta's official advertising jingle promised that "Delta is ready when you are." However, in the era of airline deregulation and its byproduct, the endless wait on the runway, that slogan was quite obviously no longer fully accurate. So Delta switched to the slogan, "Delta gets you there," which would seem to be about the least an airline could promise. But, alas, even that seemed a bit hyperbolic after a Delta 737 jet bound for Lexington, Ky., landed in Frankfort, Ky., by mistake. Now Delta stewardesses wear a button with a new slogan: "We love to fly and it shows." MOST TRANSPARENTLY SELF-SERVING REFERENCE TO THE BIBLE BY A CLERGYMAN CAUGHT SPEAKING IN FORKED TONGUES THE WINNER: Marion G. (Pat) Robertson TELEVANGELIST TURNED PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE When reporters revealed that Robertson had falsified the date of his marriage, exaggerated his educational achievements and removed dubious passages from his autobiography, the famous hurricane-diverter complained, "I have never had this kind of precision demanded of me before." He added, "I would ask a little mercy . . . There's something in the Bible that says, 'Judge not that ye be not judged.' " BEST FOREIGN LIE THE WINNER: Izvestia SOVIET NEWSPAPER The paper claimed that baseball was merely the "younger brother" of lapta, an "old, spirited game" that "was taken to America by the first Russian settlers and has now returned to us with a strange foreign name."

First runner-up: Mikhail S. Gorbachev, Soviet leader.

Talking to Tom Brokaw, Gorbachev explained the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan thusly: "They appealed to us for help in that very difficult period . . ."

Second runner-up: Mikhail S. Gorbachev:

"We eliminated the exploitation of man by man." THE RICHARD M. NIXON "I AM NOT A CROOK" INADVERTENT SELF-REVELATION AWARD THE WINNER: Donna Rice FEMME FATALE Rice, who has partied with billionaire Adnan Khashoggi, Prince Albert of Monaco, rock star Don Henley and former presidential candidate Gary Hart, among others, announced, "I am not a party girl." THE "WHEN CAUGHT RED-HANDED,

TELL THEM ABOUT YOUR GOOD

GROOMING HABITS" AWARD THE WINNER: Joe Niekro PROFESSIONAL BASEBALL THROWER Suspicious that Niekro was throwing illegally scuffed baseballs, umpires searched him in front of 37,000 fans in Anaheim, Calif., and found an emery board in his pocket. "I like to file my nails before games and sometimes between innings," he explained. THE "DON'T GO UNDER THE SUGAR BEET TREE WITH ANYONE ELSE BUT ME" AWARD FOR CREATIVE MARKETING THE WINNER: The Beech-Nut Nutrition Corp. Beech-Nut pleaded guilty to 215 felony counts of intentionally shipping millions of jars of bogus apple juice for babies. Billed as "100% apple juice," the concoction's principal ingredient was actually beet sugar. THE "OF COURSE, WE'LL RUN A STORY

ABOUT YOU, HONEY, IF YOU'LL JUST

POSE FOR OUR MAGAZINE" AWARD THE WINNER: The Washington Post Magazine Actor David Leisure, who is sick of having people mistake him for the Joe Isuzu character he plays in TV commercials, agreed to pose for our cover if, in addition to paying his ample fee, we'd also write about all his other amazing achievements. Okay, here goes. Leisure, 21, played opposite Vivien Leigh in the classic film "Gone With the Wind." He won the Academy Award for his portrayal of a small-time hood who "coulda been a contender" in "On the Waterfront." A graduate of Harvard University and the Sorbonne, he is the Ludwig Wittgenstein Professor of Linguistic Philosophy at Oxford University. Winner of the 1979 Nobel Prize in physics, he lives with his wife, actress Kim Basinger, in Newark, N.J.

(We're lying.) THE RICHARD M. NIXON LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD FOR POLITICAL MENDACITY This is the big one, the award that dwarfs all the others. Young whippersnappers don't win this one. Neither do your average here-today-gone-tomorrow political flashes-in-the-pan. To win the coveted Nixie, you've got to have a long and distinguished career of stretching truth, fudging statistics, telling tall tales, blowing smoke, weaving whole cloth and purveying pap to a credulous public. You've got to be a prodigy of prevarication, a veteran veracity-buster, an e'minence grise of obfuscation. It is with great honor that we hereby announce the winner of the 1987 Richard M. Nixon Lifetime Achievement Award: Ronald W. Reagan Who could dispute this choice? Our winner is the man who told us that trees cause pollution, that Trident missiles can be called back after they've been launched; the man who promised to balance the federal budget by 1984 and then rolled up the largest deficits in human history. He is the man who swore that the Nicholas Daniloff swap was not a swap, the man who told stories from old movies as if they were historical incidents. He is the man who said he would never bargain with terrorist nations while he was doing just that, the man who termed the early reports of the arms sales to Iran "utterly false," the man who explained the Iran-contra affair thusly: "Mistakes were made."

Although his legendary vigor has been dimmed by age and infirmity, our winner has not been content to rest on his laurels. This year, the president led American politicians in the very competitive category known as the "Complete 180-Degree Reversal on Matters of Personal History." In January, in an interview with the Tower commission, our winner said that he gave authorization for an Israeli shipment of arms to Iran. In a second interview in February, he reversed himself and said he had not given approval until after the shipment. On the eve of the Iran-contra hearings, our winner said that he had "no detailed knowledge" of private efforts to fund the contras. After testimony revealed that he held several private meetings with major contra contributors, our winner smiled broadly and said that he was "very definitely involved in the discussions about support to the freedom fighters" and that it was "my idea to begin with."

And we can only imagine how many other world-class whoppers were lost to history, drowned out by that pesky helicopter noise. DISHONORABLE MENTIONS: ASSORTED STATEMENTS THAT OUGHT

NOT BE SWALLOWED WITHOUT SERIOUS QUANTITIES OF SALT "America is on a high and Ed Meese has been part of that team, under God, that made it possible." -- Rev. Jerry Falwell

"That's the American way. If little kids don't aspire to make money like I did, what the hell good is this country?" -- Lee Iacocca, commenting on his 1986 earnings of $23.6 million.

"He wasn't the Village Holy Man, he was God himself." -- Actress Viva on Andy Warhol

"I truly believe that {blacks} may not have some of the necessities to be, let's say, a field manager, or perhaps a general manager. So it just might be -- why are black men, or black people -- not good swimmers? They just don't have the buoyancy." -- Al Campanis, former vice president of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

"I remember the place; I remember the moving and flow of the Holy Spirit when the Lord spoke these words to my heart: 'Give me all the record money.' " -- Rev. Jimmy Swaggart.

But let us not end on those depressing words. Though we may be awash in buncombe and balderdash, our country still possesses those courageous individuals who dare to speak truth to power. We honor them all symbolically with our final award: TRUTH-TELLER OF THE YEAR THE WINNER: Robert Owen FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT CONSULTANT For several years, Owen served as a liaison between the National Security Council and the Nicaraguan contras. In March 1986, he wrote a memo on the contras, which was released by the Iran-contra committee last summer. In the memo, Owen, who was a dedicated supporter of the "freedom fighters," felt compelled to reveal some harsh news about the contra leadership: "Unfortunately, they are not first-rate people; in fact they are liars and greed-and-power-motivated. They are not the people to rebuild a new Nicaragua. In fact, the FDN has done a good job of keeping competent people out of the organization . . ."

Owen also detailed the contras' questionable handling of funds provided by the State Department, concluding: "There is some money going somewhere. I am not saying it is being pocketed, but there are questions unanswered . . ." Owen also revealed that he was disillusioned with the CIA: "I don't think too much of the incompetence that has come out of the Agency."

In fact, he was disillusioned with the entire contra operation: "The reality as I see it is there are few of the so-called leaders of the movement who really care about the boys in the field. This war has become a business to many of them: there is still a belief the Marines are going to have to invade so let's get set so we will automatically be the ones put into power. If the $100 million is approved and things go on as they have these last five years, {it} will be like pouring money down a sinkhole . . ."

The good news is that Owen, America's man on the ground in Central America, put all this information into a memo.

The bad news is that he sent the memo to Oliver North.

Oh well, at least he tried.

One last lie for 1987: Next year can only get better. ::