Speaker Boehner's Honesty Problem

September 01, 2011 10:28 am ET — Jamison Foser

It's becoming increasingly clear that you just can't trust House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and his staff to tell the truth. Not just when it comes to public policy, which Boehner and his spokespeople routinely lie about. Unfortunately, many people — reporters, especially — tend to give politicians a pass for lies about public policy, as if it's just part of the job. But Boehner and his staff have also established a pattern of dishonesty about other types of things, large and small: The sources of memos, the citations in press releases, and, most recently, whether Boehner's request that the President move his planned jobs speech back a day was made on behalf of congressional Democrats as well as Republicans.

These aren't falsehoods told by a true believer in an effort to enhance the image of a flawed policy proposal. They're lies told for no reason other than scoring partisan advantage, by people who clearly don't value honesty, and who must assume nobody will hold them accountable.

Most recently, Boehner released a letter yesterday asking President Obama to move back the date of his planned economic address to Congress. In it, Boehner falsely claimed to be writing "on behalf of the bipartisan leadership and membership of both the House and the Senate." That Boehner's letter — which the chairman of the Republican National Committee applauded for "calling out" the White House for a "pure political" stunt — was not, in fact, sent "on behalf of" the Democratic leadership should have been immediately obvious to anyone who read it. And, indeed, the House Democratic Caucus soon sent a message over Twitter saying "We should not delay President Obama's jobs speech," and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's (D-CA) office told reporters the House Democratic leadership had not been consulted on the letter. So Boehner's claim that he was writing on behalf of Democrats was a lie — and an obvious one at that.

Then there's the infamous health care memo sent to reporters by Boehner aide Michael Steel, who led the reporters to believe the memo was written by Democrats warning of topics to avoid while discussing the proposed reforms. Turns out the memo wasn't actually from the Democrats — or, at least not verifiably so — and Steel dodged follow-up questions about where he got it. Steel's initial email containing the memo was "on the record," according to one recipient, but no one ever printed the exact contents of the email, making it impossible to determine just how dishonest it was. (At the time, I asked the Atlantic's Marc Ambinder, who wrote that he had received Steel's "on the record" email and that he wanted to get to the bottom of what had happened, to make the email public, but he refused to do so.) At the very least, we know that Steel led the reporters to believe the memo came from Democrats, without actually knowing whether it had.

Then there's this hilariously dishonest release from Boehner's office, which claims 2024 is "within the next decade" and portrays opinion columns written by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-OH) and Tom DeLay's former communications director as news reports.

None of these are as important as the big lies Boehner and his staff tell — the nonsense about "every economist" saying the first step to job creation is deficit reduction, for example, should be a leading contender for PolitiFact's "Lie of the Year" honors. But these frequent, casual, obvious lies demonstrate two important things. First, Boehner and his office must have endless contempt for the reporters who cover them, or else they wouldn't assume they could get away with telling such obvious lies. And second, if John Boehner's office tells you it's Tuesday, you should consult a calendar. Twice.