Michael Leppert: White House briefings remind me of children lying

  • Comments
  • Print

Michael LeppertHere’s what happened: My younger son wouldn’t give my older son one of his toys back. My older son then bopped my younger son on the head. Younger boy then commenced to scream-cry at the top of his lungs, which brought the entire household to an abrupt stop. Being chief enforcement officer, it was my job to resolve this conflict so life could move on in our home.

That was 20 years ago. I saw the entire incident from across the room with my own two eyes. But when I went to settle the matter, the strangest thing happened: Both boys lied about it.

“Verbal deceit” is a topic studied by Robert Feldman, professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. In a 2019 Health.com article, he says, “Lying is a very effective social tactic.” He lists seven reasons why people spin the truth, and none would surprise anyone who pays attention to communication and language. Especially those of us from the political world.

As we collectively watch the COVID-19 pandemic evolve, the daily briefings from the White House have been reduced to exercises in verbal deceit. Media critics wince over the coverage and how they often lack generic usefulness or trustworthy value. Virtually every one of them contains a blatant lie, exaggeration or the issuance of misplaced blame or credit. The featured dishonest item occupies the news cycle until the following day and then the process starts all over again.

The routine vividly reminds me of the two brothers I raised and their daily disputes. Each dispute was transactional in nature, and each boy cared only about the moment. Of course, they were 6 and 4 years old at the time.

President Trump’s mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic during its early stages cannot be changed. It cannot be rewritten or fixed. His administration was slow and late to lead on the issue during the most crucial of times and there is no legitimate debate about the botching of it. If you find yourself wanting to debate it, stop.

The dance the White House is attempting to choreograph at the briefings fails every single day, in one way or another. It can only fail for most Americans because the briefings’ purpose is flawed. The briefings are not meant to lead, inspire or provide vital information to the public. They are meant only to “win” the news cycle.

My sons’ disputes also were not a dialogue, nor an attempt to come to some better understanding of each other. Each boy wanted only to “win.” Neither of them ever won.

I was referee and judge for those two interlocutors for a stretch of time. All I wanted was peace and quiet. While there might not have been a winner between the boys, I vividly recall feeling like I was the loser.

In today’s global crisis, the public plays the role of father to the president as the child. At his daily briefings, the public is losing.

Political spin is older than our republic. It can be used when debating most public policy initiatives. But there are times when the only way to “win” is for the leader to roll up his or her sleeves, deliver the bad news and get on with handling the crisis.

The leader has to want to do it, though.

Feldman’s seventh stated reason for why people lie is to “maintain a previous lie.” The only way my boys and I could move on back then was to clean up the original lies. The president has no chance to lead until he commits to doing the same.•

Click here for more Forefront columns.

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

Story Continues Below

Editor's note: You can comment on IBJ stories by signing in to your IBJ account. If you have not registered, please sign up for a free account now. Please note our updated comment policy that will govern how comments are moderated.

10 thoughts on “Michael Leppert: White House briefings remind me of children lying

    1. I’ll second that. Lord have mercy if Trump even comes close to a second term in November. What a disturbing, distrustful and malignant POTUS.

  1. Who knows what to believe? I think Trump and team reacted in the proper amount of time by shutting down flights from China, then Europe, then the UK, I do think they put a lot of spin on what they are doing in response to preparedness. I do wish Trump would take some responsibility instead of constantly blaming “past administrations” for inheriting “a bare cupboard”. In three years he could have supplied the cupboard.

    1. Robert B. Believe that many other countries saw this coming, based on past experience, and the US even took this kind of threat seriously until this administration, when three years ago, they dismantled the departments and planning put into place to handle this kind of thing. Trump DID NOT shut down flights from China, at least not right away. He still allowed 40,00 non-Chinese citizens into the US after the virus was out of control in China. By mid February I was canceling May 1st foreign vacation plans. It did not take a rocket scientist or even a stable genius to see this coming.

      It looks like you must be paying for a subscription to IBJ, so you believe paying for credible, researched and fact checked journalism, so I would suggest you pay for another subscription to something like the NY Times, or the Washington Post if you want a reliable source of information.

      And you are right, we all wish Trump would stop the spin and supply some leadership. We need to gear up for TESTING and TRACING if we are going to get out of the current social distancing and start to move our lives back to something that resembles normal.

  2. Ha – no kidding. I watched a live feed of Fauci explaining what he said about “of course we could have saved more lives – but we did what we could” and then 20 minutes later on ABC world news they totally edited what he said and the headline was “Fauci doubles down on we could have saved more lives”. don’t think people aren’t figuring this out.

    what a joke. not only does he have to fight the pandemic – he has to battle fake news. much like this BS.

  3. Michael, you are right about one thing and that is the endless lying… on the part of the Main Stream Media. Check the facts, virtually EVERY so called public health expert said that COVID-19 was not as dangerous as the flu in January and February. The Left accused Trump of racism when he shut down travel to China. Now you Monday Morning Quarterbacks want to say he didn’t act fast enough. Talk about revising history. If Trump made an error it was listening to so called experts who oversold the danger. Our response to this virus should have been managed more locally.

  4. Progressive liberals – You are despondent over many issues, and one of the biggies is that you no longer have a death grip over the narrative and cannot play your unchecked verbal deceit games like days of old. (Not to mention BS pieces like this when it comes back at you) What is most disturbing about the whole issue, is your TOTAL lack of self awareness and a commitment to delusions of grandeur about how you all are intellectually superior and therefor were worthy of you total domination of the narrative. Trump is a product of that deceit to yourselves, and you have no one more to blame, than yourselves. Drop the Stalin’esque arrogance, show at least some modicum of contrition over what you have tried to do with this president (Russia, impeachment, etc) and you might get some of us to listen to you. Otherwise the cultural civil war will march on…..

    1. Surely you might have heard that Trump does not tell the truth? Maybe you could google a few of his statements yourself to see if what he says is true? Oh…. maybe “that’s just his style” and he does not mean the things he says. Or maybe you did not read the last sentence of the article, that once you start lying, you have to double down and maintain the lie.

      Ask yourself if maybe you aren’t lying to yourself, because it might be too painful to admit you might be wrong about Trump? It seems pretty obvious to a lot of reasonable people and not just to people you would like to call, “Progressive liberals”.