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10 Big Fat Lies and the Liars Who Told Them

From Joseph McCarthy's red scare to Reagan's big scandal,these whoppers have affected millions.
 
 
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Photo Credit: spirit of america / Shutterstock.com

 
 
 
 

This story originally appeared at  BillMoyers.com.

Investigative journalist  Chuck Lewis joined Bill this week to discuss his new book,  935 Lies: The Future of Truth and the Decline of America’s Moral Integrity, that looks at the history of government officials and media pundits speaking and repeating (and repeating and repeating) untruths to shape public opinion and policy.

The title of the book refers to the number of times President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and other top administration officials made false statements in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. But the book has a far greater scope, looking at how lies have shaped American policy over several decades.

Here are 10 notable whoppers that affected hundreds, thousands, and in some cases, millions of lives.

1. President Barack Obama on health insurance plans

“If you like the [health care] plan you have, you can keep it.”

President Barack Obama, June 6, 2009 (similarly stated numerous times)

The Affordable Care Act imposed new standards on health care plans, such as a minimum required set of benefits, and limits on total out-of-pocket expenses. A small percentage of existing plans did not meet these standards, and in some cases, the insurance company that had offered them  decided to discontinue them. They were, in effect, “canceled.” Though these plans were not very comprehensive, a fraction of the 4-to-5 percent of Americans who had purchased them were upset when they discovered they would not be able to keep them after all. The president’s oft-repeated — and now demonstrably false — claim added fuel to the fire. The administration imposed a temporary “keep your plan” fix to the health care law, and  extended it through the midterm elections.

2. President George W. Bush on weapons of mass destruction

“We found the weapons of mass destruction [in Iraq]. We found biological laboratories.”

President George W. Bush, May 29, 2003

In the run-up to the 2003 US-led coalition invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration offered up many reasons for invading and removing Saddam Hussein from power, but WMDs was the foremost one. The false claim was the primary argument for a war and occupation that  claimed the lives of about 5,000 coalition soldiers and nearly a half a million Iraqis.

In April 2005, the CIA closed its investigation  into weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, finding nothing.

3. Vice President Dick Cheney on weapons of mass destruction

“Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us.”

Vice President Dick Cheney, August 26, 2002

Dick Cheney made much of the weapons of mass destruction claim  as well as other false statements while he was vice president. And he remains convinced that invading Iraq was justified; last year he told a reporter that  even if the US only succeeded in eliminating thepotential of WMDs in Iraq, it was worth the war effort.

4. R.J. Reynolds on the health hazards of cigarettes

“Cigarette smoking is no more ‘addictive’ than coffee, tea or Twinkies.”

James W. Johnston, CEO of RJR Nabisco, April 14, 1994

For over half a century, American cigarette manufacturers denied that their products were addictive and dangerous, and suppressed their own research that confirmed it. The quote comes from written testimony submitted in a 1994 congressional hearing during which executives from the seven largest tobacco companies admitted that there “ may be” some health risks to smoking, but denied that cigarettes were addictive, and that they manipulated nicotine levels to make them more so.

 
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