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"He Lies!" Not New to the Presidency

Kathleen Cochran is a writer & former newspaper reporter/editor who traveled the world as a soldier's better half. Her works are on Amazon.


Think 'Fake News' Is New?

Ever hear of "Yellow Journalism"? It was a style of newspaper reporting in the late 1800s that emphasized sensationalism over facts. It played a significant part in leading the U.S. into war with Spain. Its main purpose was to drive sales of newspapers. And the truth be damned.

People talk about "fake news" like 2017 just invented the stuff. It's not a result of the last election, no matter how loud or how long the accusations go on. There has always been a market in this country for the tawdry, the accusatory, the lazy, and the lowest form of journalism. We used to laugh at its outrageous headlines while we waited impatiently at the grocery checkout line. Just the mention of the name of certain publications completely obliterated the credibility of any story they ran.

But in today's climate, any story someone takes issue with can be labeled "fake news", and a seed of doubt is planted in our minds about, not only the veracity of the article but also of the media outlet that published it. It's not a matter of sensationalizing the news anymore. It's a matter of questioning the veracity of the news. What/who can we believe these days?

The ironic thing about our skepticism today is that it is being not so much encouraged as much as it is being egged on by leaders in the highest places of our government. Even our president declares what is true and what is fake for us, as if the presidency has always been above reproach when it came to truthfulness.

President James K. Polk

President James K. Polk

No, We Didn't Just Invent Presidents Who Lie

Can you name the 11th president of the United States? Most of us couldn't on a bet. But historians credit him with the second biggest presidential lie of all time.

The day before the inauguration of James K. Polk, the great state of Texas was admitted to the union. That was all fine and good for Texas, except that Mexico wanted it back. They had no intention of letting the results of Texas' fight for independence to go unchallenged. In fact, they had no intention of also losing California and the rest of the Southwest as we know it today.

Polk had won the presidency in part because of his belief in Manifest Destiny, the idea that God himself intended America to span the distance between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. To that end, President Polk offered Mexico $30 million for the southern boundary of Texas to be recognized as the Rio Grande River, plus the New Mexico territory and California. They refused even to meet with his envoy. So he sent 40,000 troops into the new state of Texas for the purpose of settling, once and for all, the dispute with Mexico over a distance of about 525,000 square miles. And just as Polk planned, Mexico fired on Polk's troops, killing or injuring 16 of them.

That action was all Polk needed to go to Congress and state that Mexico had "invaded our territory and shed the blood of our fellow-citizens on our own soil." The result of his lie? The Mexican-American War of 1846–1848, which added California and the Southwest as U.S. territories and defined the border of Texas. At the end of the war, Polk paid Mexico $15 million in reparations for the acquired U.S. territories.

Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan

Most Recent 'Biggest Liar' President?

In recent times Ronald Reagan has achieved sainthood status among Republicans. The historic record remembers him somewhat differently.

During his eight-year administration, his welfare cuts sent half a million people, primarily children, into poverty and homelessness. Unemployment during his first term hit levels not seen since before WWII. Terrorists killed 229 Marines in Beirut, and Reagan responded by abandoning the U.S. position there. And eight senior members of his administration were indicted by the end of his terms, more than in Richard Nixon's Watergate scandal.

But the lie that puts Reagan in the top three for presidential untruths occurred in 1986. Iran offered to free U.S. hostages (taken after the release of the 52 that cost President Carter a second term) in exchange for missiles. "We did not, I repeat, did not trade weapons or anything else [to Iran] for hostages, nor will we," stated Reagan. A few months later he revised that statement. "A few months ago, I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that's true, but the facts and evidence tell me it is not."

Reagan had approved the sale of more than 2,000 anti-tank weapons to Iran in return for promises to release the American hostages there. Money from the sale of those weapons went to support the Contras' war in Nicaragua (in violation of a Congressional ban) in which some 70,000 Nicaraguans died in the war between the Contras and Sandinistas.

President Reagan's Explanation

The Number One Presidential Lie (According to Historians)

At the height of the Vietnam war, half a million U.S. soldiers were fighting in Southeast Asia, and by its end in 1974, 60,000 had died. Historians lay those deaths at the feet of President Lyndon B. Johnson.

In August 1964, two U.S. ships were reported attacked in Vietnam’s Gulf of Tonkin. Johnson called the attack “unprovoked” and ordered bombing North Vietnam in retaliation. Congress, followed this action with the passing of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, authorizing the president "to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the US and to prevent further aggression.” That resolution transferred the power of war from the Congress to the president and has been used by subsequent presidents to wage war without explicit congressional permission. And those extended results were born of a lie.

There was no unprovoked attack. In 1965, Johnson admitted the U.S. had been spying on North Vietnam in order to coordinate South Vietnamese attacks on them. The prevailing wisdom at the time predicted if South Vietnam fell to communism, the entire region would follow. Johnson eventually admitted, “For all I know, our Navy was shooting at whales out there.” But his lie won the support of the American people for the war, and 60,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines did not come home.

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The Biggest Lie

Honorable Mention for Liars?

  • George W. Bush: “Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.” The result: 17 years of war. So far 4,000 dead and many thousands injured. The Iraq and Afghan deaths/injuries are in the hundreds of thousands.
  • Richard M. Nixon: “I am not a crook.” Nixon not only lied, he broke the law. The result: He resigned the presidency and put an unelected vice president in the Oval Office.
  • Jimmy Carter: "I will never lie to you." This promise came on the heels of the first president in U.S. history to resign the office: Nixon. There are no documented lies concerning Carter's presidency. He kept his word. I mention him as an example of an honest man who was not considered a great president and was only elected for one term in office. So much for Americans' appreciation of honesty. Carter went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize after leaving office, and he is universally praised for his humanitarian efforts around the globe, including building homes for the poor.


  • The Atlantic
  • Mother Jones
  • Defending the
  • The Huffington Post
  • The Washington Post
  • The Nation
  • CNN

Lies, Lies and Damned Lies

Which president told the worst lie?


Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on July 06, 2020:

MG? You said it: "the sad fact is that these men are still revered in America " We are so easily duped. And 2016 was the mother of all dupes.

MG Singh emge from Singapore on March 29, 2020:

A very comprehensive and informative article, but the sad fact is that these men are still revered in America and nobody wishes to remember the thousands of American young men these presidents sent to the guillotine.

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on September 13, 2018:

This article is about presidents' most damaging lies. The time may have come to consider the danger of the sheer number of lies by a single president.

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on June 26, 2018:

The way I closed with Jimmy Carter is confusing. I meant it as a contrast to the others. I'll reword it.

I didn't list Trump because it was early in his presidency and I was trying to be objective. I'm past that now. He is certainly in a classless class by himself. That so many people make excuses for him in the biggest disappointment of his administration as far as I am concerned.

Thanks for your comments!

Catherine Giordano from Orlando Florida on June 26, 2018:

This is a very good article about fake news and presidents who are liars. I think I would have put George W. Bush among the top three. He lied us into the Iraq war and the world is still suffering the consequences.

I also have to disagree with the inclusion of Jimmy Carter among the lying presidents. I don't know if he kept his promise 100%, but you didn't cite any lies he told. I think he was among the better presidents when it came to honesty.

And surely you can't write about presidents who lie without mentioning Donald Trump. According to the calculations done by the Washington Post (and others) he lies on average about 5 times a day. And the lies are not little white lies; they are whoppers. I don't think any other president even comes close.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on November 05, 2017:

Today's news, and the reaction to it by the populace, is a bit amusing. I've lived through too many politicians in almost seventy years, and the one thing I can count on is that they will lie to the public. It is ridiculous to think otherwise and yet many people do. I just don't get it.

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on August 16, 2017:

I wake up every morning wondering what deplorable thing he will do or say today. Has it really only been seven months?

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on June 14, 2017:

After the circle - whatever that was in the cabinet room this week, with secretaries pledging their allegiance to Trump, you have to wonder how history will record such an episode in this particular presidency.

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on May 18, 2017:

My father-in-law used to say that. He was also the wisest man I ever knew.

Mizbejabbers on May 18, 2017:

Comment to your latest comment: Boy does it ever apply! We had a saying when I was a kid, and I think it's appropriate today in light of calling in a special prosecutor to investigate to try to sort out the truth, "he'd rather climb a tree and tell a lie than stand on the ground and tell the truth."

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on May 16, 2017:

This hub comes to mind today in light of the latest news.

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on April 14, 2017:

Unfortunately, Catherine, I'm afraid you are right. Thanks for the comment.

Catherine Giordano from Orlando Florida on April 14, 2017:

This is an excellent piece of reporting and a timely reminder. I noticed all the lies, except for Nixon were done to enable a president to go to war. I don't think we've seen the last of war-enabling lies.

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on April 11, 2017:

Shyron: Thanks for the encouraging comment. I've been wondering if folks are on spring break? Somebody (ies?) reading a bunch of my hubs lately!

Shyron E Shenko from Texas on April 11, 2017:

Kathleen, this is an awesome hub. How about a president who does not tell a truth, trump would win hands down. Heck! he even lied about lying. He said he would never lie to the American people and then he even lied about that.

Blessings and hugs my friend.

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on March 26, 2017:

Looks like I'll be rewriting this hub eventually.

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on March 17, 2017:

Couldn't find your information in that link. I'm sure it's there. Just not easily found. It may be referring to total number of lies. My hub deals with the fallout from the lies, specifically in number of lives lost.

Jack Lee from Yorktown NY on March 17, 2017:

Here is the source Cspan -

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on March 17, 2017:

"Presidential historians rank Reagan 9th, above Obama at 12th." What's your source, please?

I think the failure in US media today lies in branding news organizations one way or the other. The cardinal rule of journalism is to be objective. If a media outlet concedes that principle at the outset - what good are you?

I think many reporters are still making a valiant effort, but you have to search for them among the wannabeastar types. They should never have started putting an anchor's name in the title of a broadcast.

Jack Lee from Yorktown NY on March 17, 2017:

Just curious, as a former reporter, what do you think of the current state of America media? Has it ever been so divisive and dishonest and biased? Perhaps your research could shed some light.

Jack Lee from Yorktown NY on March 17, 2017:

Presidential historians rank Reagan 9th, above Obama at 12th.

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on March 17, 2017:

I live through Reagan also. I stand by the research.

Jack Lee from Yorktown NY on March 17, 2017:

Yes, I am entitled to my opinion but you are also expected to get the facts straight. With regard to Reagan and Iran Contra, there is much more to the story you presented. I lived through that era and I knew the story well. Reagan was trying to make good on a promise to the rebels before Congress past the law forbidding our involvement. His deception was orchestrated by Oliver North using the Iran sales to fund the Nicaraguan rebels. Here is part of that story -

Reagan did it on two levels, to save the rebels by honoring pledge and to stop the Sandonista communist government taking hold in Central America. If you have to blame someone, it probably should be Congress who created the atmosphere in the first place.

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on March 17, 2017:

Jack: I wrote from my research. You are certainly entitled to your opinion, but the research is what it is. Thanks.

Jack Lee from Yorktown NY on March 16, 2017:

Just because no one died does not mean it was a harmless lie. Obama's lies in passing the ACA cost the country plenty. In terms of lost jobs and wages for millions of people and worse, money and treasure to create a monstrosity of a program that will take years to unwind. What a waste...

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on March 16, 2017:

Jackie: I didn't miss it, it just wasn't one of the biggest according to the experts I researched. They ranked the lies by how many people lost their lives because of the lie. Nobody died because of President Obama's.

Jack Lee from Yorktown NY on March 16, 2017:

You missed Barack Obama "if you like your Dr., you can keep your Dr."...

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on March 16, 2017:

Arthur: It's fascinating to learn one's own history. I made a trip to Kansas last spring and reconnected with an aunt who turned out to be a wellspring of family lore. I could listen to her stories for hours.

Arthur Russ from England on March 09, 2017:

Thanks Kathleen, already done that; some of my early hubs written a few years ago features newspaper articles from my great-great grandfather’s scrapbook; two in particular make reference to the Paul Denton story:-

• 19th Century News Media Perception of British and American Religion

• Victorian Newspapers in Britain and America

With the first hub mentioned above actually having a copy of the newspaper cutting about the Texan preacher imbedded into the article.

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on March 09, 2017:

Sounds like the beginnings of an interesting hub!

Arthur Russ from England on March 08, 2017:

It was a long time ago, but a number stories published then, I suspect were ‘fake news’ used as fillers’, as there are no historical references to those events.

My great-great grandfather’s scrapbook of newspaper articles dates from the late 1840s when he was in America completing his apprenticeship in stonemasonry, first in Baltimore and then Philadelphia. Then he continues with his scrapbook from 1857 when he moved back to Bristol, England to set up his profession as a Phrenologist (skills he learnt while in America), which he used to earn a living for the next 40 years until his retirement.

One such newspaper story he put in his scrapbook, which is ‘fake news’ and which is rather striking, is the story of Paul Denton, a Methodist preacher from Texas. Paul Denton (according to the newspaper article) gained a captive audience to preach to by conning people with a promise of “a barbecue, with better liquor than usually furnished”; and when it turned out to be only spring water he is quoted as saying “my friends, would you exchange it for the demon’s drink, alcohol?

With the help of a fellow researcher, it transpired this story was a fictionalized account based on the life of John B Denton, a pioneer preacher who went to Texas in 1837 and who was killed in 1841 fighting Indians. The story of Paul Denton and the Barbeque was used in newspapers around the world as a ‘filler’ story from the 1850s until the 1880s, and it even appeared in an Australian newspaper during that time period.

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on March 08, 2017:

Thanks for commenting, Nathanville. When I was a newspaper editor, we would fill blank space with press releases that had marginal news value (except to the person or organization that sent it to us!) Not sure that "unnecessary" news and "fake" news are the same thing. I would never have published an article I knew to be false. Is that kind of thing what you found?

Arthur Russ from England on March 08, 2017:

I inherited my great-great grandfather’s scrapbook of Victorian and American 19th century newspaper articles; over 500 newspaper clippings in total. One thing I learnt from studying his scrapbook was the common use of ‘filler articles’ e.g. fake news used just to fill blank space on the pages; often these stories would do the rounds by being published in one newspaper after another around the world.

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on March 07, 2017:

Posted this hub over the weekend. Thanks to those of you who found it amidst your other activities.

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on March 04, 2017:

Thanks MisBejabbers. I was inclined to list the lies in descending order of how many people the lie killed. But the research did it for me.

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on March 04, 2017:

You've done a great job here, Kathleen. There are many more important presidential untruths than pointing out presidential personal problems. So, maybe your research will turn a few opinions away from those who think Bill Clinton told the greatest presidential lie when he said, I did not have sex with that woman."

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on March 04, 2017:

The Greater Good - was so often referred to in the research. Thanks for commenting.

Catherine Giordano from Orlando Florida on March 04, 2017:

Great post. A reminder of how power corrupts. I suppose the people doing the lying feel like they are serving some greater good. At lest some do, some of the time, but too often it is just to protect their own power.

Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on March 03, 2017:

Thanks MsDora! I've added a poll at the end if you would like to express an opinion on the worst lie.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on March 03, 2017:

Thanks for sharing your research and your insight on the topic of lies from the nation's leaders. What a sad state of affairs!

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