Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Lying About Leaving

As should be clear from the previous post, I'm not sorry to be saying goodbye to Alberto Gonzales, perhaps the worst Attorney General we've ever had. However, I do feel compelled to cut him some slack from a particular charge that is being bandied about. It seems that reporters were asking over the weekend whether Gonzales was going to resign, and Gonzales, thru his press secretary, denied the rumors, even though they were in fact true. I read blogs that complained about him "going out appropriately with one last lie", and even the veteran reporter Daniel Schorr centered his commentary today on this lie as an epitomy of the dishonor we've sunk to expect from government officials. While I am appalled as anybody at Gonzales' dishonest testimony to Congress, in this particular instance, I just don't get what's wrong. This is what anybody does when leaving a job, and it seems to me completely standard, above-board protocol.

If you're leaving a job, you have some private conversations about it with your boss, and if your leaving might be the cause of any disruption, you agree with your boss when and how you're going to break the news to everybody else. If somebody happens to ask you prematurely whether you're leaving, you don't just jetison the plans you've made about the timing of your departure announcement. If you're particularly skillful, you might adroitly evade the question. (Note that Gonzales has not proven himself skillful in this manner.) Since a clumsy evasion may be taken as an admission, to be safe, it may be best to deny what you know to be true. It's a lie to be sure, but a harmless one, since the truth will come out in due time. Sometimes lying is a necessary part of tact and decorum. It should be noted that the person who asks such a question is being rude, since one knows a priori that it's not a question that the questionee could appropriately answer, and it puts the questionee in an awkward position. Such a rude questioner doesn't deserve an honest response.

The name of Alberto Gonzales may justly be piloried for a great many injuries to the reputation of the US Government, but denying on Sunday what he announced as planned on Monday is not one of them.

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