May 04, 2011
The unreliability of government statements
In a post I wrote six years ago, I warned that we should not believe the reports that government officials release in the immediate aftermath of a major event because they are invariably unreliable, either because full information is not available or more frequently because governments deliberately lie as part of the propaganda process, knowing that the first version of events is the one that sticks in people's minds. As such, I said that we should not believe any of the details that are released until they have been substantiated.
The bin Laden story seems to be another example. The government initially said that he had been armed and using his wife as a shield when he was killed 'in a firefight', resulting in her death as well. It turns out that both these details were false. It would not be surprising if we find out in the days, months, and even years to come that other details are also false. Look how long it took for the true stories about Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch to emerge.
So why gild the lily? Why not simply take credit for what seems like a carefully thought out and well-executed plan? Perhaps the government felt the need to discredit bin Laden. But this is pointless. After all, those who hated him do not need any additional reasons to do so, while those who are inspired by him will not believe such stories. Some may even claim that the reports of his death are a fabrication.
I think governments simply cannot help themselves. They cannot let the facts speak for themselves but feel compelled to embellish in order to either cover up their mistakes or, as seems to be the case here, to make themselves look as good as possible and their enemies as bad as possible.
What is truly surprising is that the members of the media, who should know better by now since they have been burned time and again, seem to fall for government propaganda every single time, and pass on government statements as fact, without even the hint of skepticism.