Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Rarest Of Lies

You all probably know this already but, in congressional testimony, executives from Exxon Mobil, Chevron and ConocoPhillips baldly lied to the country. Asked if they attended meetings as part of Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force in 2001, they all said "no."

Turns out, they did. Yet another scoop for Dana Millbank at the Washington Post, with help from colleague Justin Blum.

It was a weird lie, a rare one. It was a declarative lie.

I talk to people in business all of the time. It's my job. They rarely flat out deny something that's true. It happens, sure. But in my experience, people tend to say what's "technically true," if it serves them, leaving me feeling like I'd been lied to but facing something more complex.

That's not all bad. Consider this. An investment manager promises a 10% annual return, no matter what the markets do. Or, an investment manager promises to seek, or believes he can achieve, a 10% annual return regardless of what the market does. The first manager is more likely a scam artist than the second, who has hedged the promise in a realistic way. The second is only a liar or arrogant incompetent if they have no reason to believe they can get a 10% return.

An oddity about the oil lie is that refusing to answer was an option. Sure, folks would have taken that as confirmation, but it wouldn't have been confirmation. The Post would have still revealed the answer, but at least the execs would have been innocent of blatantly lying to the entire country.

Well, they said what they said. I guess now we know what they think of us. Our questions are irrelevant to them. They feel they owe us no candor. If they have more of a role in government than the rest of us, well, tough.

Maybe congress should bring the CEOs of the entire S&P 500 to testify, over the course of the next two years. I'd like to test the rest of them.


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