NPR Takes a Pass on Using the Word ‘Lie’ to Describe Trump Falsehoods

For now.

Whether or not to use the word “lie” continues a debate that started with Trump’s candidacy, followed him into the president-elect phase and continues now with his presidency.

With the New York Times once again leading the charge in a Monday headline following President Trump’s factually bereft statements regarding his loss of the popular vote (Trump Repeats Lie About Popular Vote in Meeting With Lawmakers) and again yesterday after press secretary Sean Spicer‘s Tuesday press conference (Trump Won’t Back Down From His Voting Fraud Lie. Here Are the Facts.), other organizations are examining anew their relationship with the word.

When NPR national security correspondent Mary Louise Kelly avoided the word in favor of a host of other descriptors in a report on Trump’s use of–to use Kelly’s own words–“untrue claims” and “false denials,” during a visit to the CIA, she told NPR’s Steve Inskeep this morning the report “led to my inbox exploding with people writing to say, ‘why are you pussyfooting around’? ‘why not just say, he lied?'”

For her explanation, Kelly took it to the Oxford English Dictionary, which has intent as the centerpiece of its definition.

Michael Oreskes, NPR’s svp of news and editorial director, who was with Kelly this morning, backs up her decision and adds another explanation of his own. “We at NPR have decided not to use the word lie in most situations, and there’s really two reasons,” he said. “One is the one that Mary Louise cited, but there’s a second reason, and maybe more important. Our job as journalists is to report: find facts, establish their authenticity and share them with everyone. And I think when you use words like lie it gets in the way of that.”

He added, “These are things we’ve established through our journalism, through our reporting, and I don’t want to do anything that gets in the way of people seeing that reporting.”

Inskeep clarified, and Oreskes agreed, that NPR doesn’t ban the use of the word, nor does the current reticence to use the term preclude NPR staff from using it in the future, if intent of a falsehood could clearly be established, especially through repetition. How many times would it take, we wonder?

It was Inskeep who had spoken to New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet in September about the paper’s decision to use the word “lie,” where warranted, in its coverage of Trump, a decision rooted in Trump’s birther claims. Comparing back then NPR’s decision not to use the word with the Times’ decision to use it, Baquet had said, “I think I’m using a more accurate word.”