Sunday, June 13, 2010

Stupidhead of the Week: Ken Salazar (Do you want to know what BP has really been doing? Part II)

If you want to know what BP has been doing, watch Ken Salazar. Salazar’s obvious evasiveness at answering basic questions clues us into basic truths of the situation. I’ve noticed this over and over again while watching him squirm under the congressional hot seat. Salazar pauses when he can’t tell the truth (a classic lying tell), uses weasel words and phrases over and over again, and has a response framework where he is typically telling you the truth about the situation specifically by what he doesn’t say and how he doesn’t say it.

The starkest example I’ve seen can be found on this video clip (starting at 0:17)

Here are the following lying tells that Salazar gives:

1) His ten second pause clearly demonstrates that Salazar can’t openly tell the truth. Lies take longer to think up than the truth, which is almost always immediately available. This immense pause alone is sufficient to make me think, “wow, obviously BP refused government requests or directives”.

2) During this pause, I personally feel that if you pay close attention to his eyes and facial expression, Salazar is thinking through examples of BP not cooperating while trying to formulate a response that is technically true by the literal words he says while omitting his known instances of their lack of cooperation.

3) His initial tense, tight lipped posture shows his defensiveness against the question. Defensiveness of this nature usually indicates deception. He is highly uncomfortable and doesn’t want to answer. This only makes sense if BP hasn’t cooperated. If they had cooperated at all times, Salazar could openly tell the truth with relative ease.

4) The shift of his head at 0:28, combined with his defeated look and evasive eye movements all show a type of defensiveness that belies his coming deception. He can’t just come out and tell the truth here, and is uncomfortable about how badly he wants to avoid blatantly lying.

5) “They have not refused anything that I have ordered them to do.” This is a classic weasel phrase. Instead of a simple yes or no followed by explanation, he redirects the question, giving an answer that sounds like a “no” but is much more likely a misdirected “yes”. If the answer was no, Salazar would say “no” and then explain any nuance if needed.

6) “But I am not in charge.” – Double weasel! This indicates there is something they have refused to do that Salazar knows of, but was not directly responsible for in an official sense. He just had to let this slip to ease the emotional discomfort of his first weasel response.

Video Bonus: Krauthammer taking him to task for his lack of preparation, not his obvious lying. Ken, you need to take time to prepare your lies of omission better! Actually, with your job, not being able to lie well is probably a good sign that you do it poorly.

If you are going to be this obvious when you lie and omit information, what is the point of the deception?

Now, the absence of such lying tells *do not mean* that a person is telling the truth. As Lee Atwater proved 20 years ago, an individual might just be an exceptionally good liar, able to advance their talking points in a sincere sounding way regardless of what reality actually is, never feeling the moral ambiguity or guilt the average person would. Objective evidence, insofar as it can be found, should 100% be given priority over such conversational cues.

On another note, there is a good side to all of this. Powerful politicians, government officials, and corporate executives lie often in the course of advancing and protecting their interests. To be honest, they have to or they would have never advanced to the position they are at. Quite surprisingly, many of them are *terrible at lying*. If you can pick up on the multitude of ways in which people expose their own lying in conversation, you have a great opportunity to see though the narratives of powerful actors and get useful (or at least interesting) information that it would otherwise be impossible for you to have access to.

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