Why they lie

An interesting exchange from last weeks NOW with Bill Moyers:

BRANCACCIO: And normally we would chide the media for not trying to get to the bottom of these ads. What is the truth here? But I’ll tell you, in this Swift Boat case, that’s a toughy. I mean, people have tried. And the fact is the information from so many years ago is uneven, is sometimes contradictory. It’s hard for a newspaper or a broadcast like this to say, all right, here’s really what happened.

JAMIESON: THE WASHINGTON POST and NEW YORK TIMES have done a very good job at getting to what we can reasonably get to in the record. What interests me about it is that you have people on both sides who seem to genuinely believe conflicting accounts. And I think there’s an explanation for it.

We know that human memory is fallible. And anybody can go back in their own past and say, there are times when I was so sure this is what happened. And then I talked to other people who were there, and they didn’t remember it the same way. I don’t think that the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth had any idea who Kerry was when Kerry was on those boats.

He wasn’t Senator Kerry or President Kerry, he was just one more person on the boats. I think they went back and recalled their memories of Kerry when he came and protested the war. And I think they were very angry. They came back and thought they heard him accusing them of atrocities. I think this is the explanation for why it is that they believe that he must not have earned his medals even though the evidence would suggest that he did. In order to make their own internal story coherent about Vietnam, they have to somehow reconcile what they heard as an attack on them, what they heard as allegation of atrocities that they had committed, which is different actually I believe from what Kerry said.

But, nonetheless, what I believe they heard and the ads suggest what they heard. They had to reconcile that with Kerry the hero who earned the medals. I believe to make their own story consistent for themselves they believed he couldn’t have earned those medals. Hence, he was a liar then. He was a liar when he protested the war. He must be unfit to be President. I think this is an exploration in the process about human memory requires us to create a consistent story, particularly about people we intensely dislike.