I've been blogging since June of 2006 and have not avoided controversial issues or people. But something I recently posted at Psychology Today, "Sarah Palin's Lies" (now posted in full below), elicited more vitriolic comments and personal e-mails than anything else I've ever written. Here are a few examples:
- "Why is it that fat, ugly sluts like you are always liberal democrats?"
- "You will die, eventually, and take the evil with you. And that is as it should be. As such, you are clearly not a real American, but one of the obama type. There are plenty of places for you to live, but NOT in the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA!!" [It got nastier after this.]
I realize that viciousness is part of the blogosphere, and that other bloggers experience much worse, so I'm not complaining. If I'm going to write about controversy and do it in a passionate way, then I have to be ready for whatever might come my way. It is interesting, though, that when Sarah Palin was asked recently about the people who have criticized her, she said, "These are probably some lonely people, some shallow people." So perhaps her defenders are simply following her lead. Or maybe they would have commented as they did even without Palin's example.
Here's my original post, in full, from Psychology Today:
Sarah Palin's Lies
Listen up, folks, I'm going rogue! Well, actually, just veering off-topic for today.
I always agree to do interviews relevant to single life, but when it comes to my other area of expertise - the psychology of lying - I have to be in the mood. Nothing puts me in the mood better than a really interesting question. So when Daily Beast reporter Michelle Goldberg asked me why Sarah Palin lies even when the truth is well established, she got me thinking.
You can read what I and another expert told Goldberg in her intriguing piece, "Palin's Ego Trip," here. I won't repeat that but just add a bit more.
I studied liars and their lies for decades. I found that the vast majority of liars do care about the truth in at least one fundamental way - they want to be able to assure themselves and others that there is something honest about what they are saying. They want to have some wisp of truth to hang onto.
What would you do if you hated a particular painting, only to have the artist who painted it approach you, point to it, and say, "That's one of my paintings. What do you think of it?" Along with my colleague and friend, Kathy Bell, I actually did research like this. (It is described in professional paper #4 in the book, The Lies We Tell and the Clues We Miss.) A completely truthful answer would have been, "I hate it." Unsurprisingly, that's not the answer our participants preferred. Instead, they tried in all sorts of ways to convey the impression that they liked the painting, while still including something that could be defended as truthful. For example, they might tell the artist that they liked the shape of the leaf in the plant in the background - without acknowledging that the shape of that one leaf was the ONLY thing they liked.
From my post as an outside observer, it seems to me that Sarah Palin doesn't care much about the truth. In that way, she is a very special liar. Instead, Palin seems to love the effect her disingenuous pronouncements have on her audiences and so she just runs with them. Her fans adore her claims about "death panels" and about Obama supposedly "palling around with terrorists" and all the rest. Look at how they roar with approval and fervor when she tosses that red, bloody moose meat to them - how can the mere (non) truth-value of what she is saying ever compete with that? Plus, the fact that her taunts drive her detractors over the edge - well, that just adds to the fun!
Sarah Palin seems to relish the reaction she gets to her claims and complaints. Among her core fan base, the theme that the mean media and the full-of-themselves campaign staffers were unfair to noble, authentic, small-town Sarah seems to be a winner. Whether it is really true is almost irrelevant.
I do love the irony of Palin flaunting her authenticity with lies.