James Stewart: "Tangled Webs"
Lying is as old as civilization itself. People tell lies for many reasons, often with few or no consequences. But in a judicial system based on people telling the truth under oath, lies can ruin lives. In a new book, a Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist and lawyer argues that perjury has become commonplace. And it's being committed by people at the highest levels of business, politics, media and culture. He examines the high-profile trials of Martha Stewart, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Barry Bonds and Bernie Madoff. And he explores why people with so much to lose by lying do it anyway. A discussion with James B. Stewart on how lies can harm people and societies - and why loyalty almost never trumps honesty.
Pulitzer-Prize-winning reporter and author of "Blind Eye," "Den of Thieves" and other non-fiction works.
Author Extra: James Stewart Answers Questions
Mr. Stewart stayed after the show to answer a few more questions.
Q: My question is: Do we lie more today, or are we more aware of lying? Has the Internet made us more aware of lies that have always occurred throughout the long timeline of Humanity?
- From Will via email in Massachusetts
A: My sense is that incidents of lying and perjury— especially in high places — are surging. Can I prove that? There aren't any statistics, unlike murder or car theft. But every prosecutor I interviewed told me that it was an epidemic, or close to it, and it was getting worse. Anecdotally, I examined dozens and dozens of cases before choosing the four in the book. And why wouldn't it be an epidemic, given the role models at the top? President Clinton committed perjury and only grudgingly apologized for it and President Bush condoned it when he commuted Scooter Libby's sentence.
Q: Uncovering lies seems like it can be a complicated process. What's the best way for journalists to combat lies? What should they read, think about or do differently in order to discover and expose lies?
- From Michael in Michigan
A: As a journalist, I assume someone is being truthful until I encounter evidence to the contrary. I like to think the best of people. But I'm always alert to the possibility. And in my experience, it isn't that hard to detect. None of the liars and perjurers in my book turned out to be very good at it. This has also been true of many people I've interviewed as a journalist who lied. They always seemed to think I wouldn't check or go to sources who could refute what they were saying. That’s a problem in journalism today. Access seems to be valued far too highly. The result is stories that simply restate whatever the celebrity source wants to say, no matter how far-fetched. And then people swallow It. I mean, Bernie Madoff is now giving prison interviews. I know for a fact that much of what he’s saying now is a lie.
Q: How does one teach a child not to lie? My 7 yr old lies quite readily, sometimes wildly fictitious stories, to garner attention, no doubt, and sometimes little stretches of the truth. How do I teach her the importance of her own integrity? - From Kimberly
A: Combating perjury starts in the home. Children are going to lie. They're going to test the responses. This is a great learning opportunity. They also watch to see how parents react to others who lie. I learned valuable lessons as a child: my parents wouldn't tolerate lying, and the burden of living with the lies and telling more to sustain them was intolerable.
Read an Excerpt
From Tangled Webs by James B. Stewart. Published by arrangement with The Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc. Copyright © James B. Stewart, 2011: