Getting It Right: Truth vs Accuracy


Bullseye blogPresident Obama received a notorious honor at the end of 2013 — numerous Pinocchio votes for Lie of the Year: “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it . . .  PERIOD.” It was uttered numerous times, but it was a promise impossible to keep.

His statement was truthful . . . but, it was not accurate. His declarative, ‘period,’ made it definitive and unconditional, even though he attempted to point out an implicit ‘if’ factor that should be considered.

Truth is most often used to mean in accord with fact or reality. Accuracy is the quality of being true, but includes the element of being correct, precise or exact. So, one can be truthful, but the power of words and semantics can be used very cleverly to intimate, insinuate, and imply things that may not be accurate. 

President Reagan used a beautiful rhetorical device called an apophasis during the 1984 debates. When asked if, at 73, he was too old to be President, he quipped, “I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” The device involves mentioning a subject by stating that it will not be mentioned!

In President Obama’s case, the ‘period’ remark conveyed something naturally to be inferred or understood — when that logical deduction was further qualified, it seemed he was being deliberately dishonest. And this impacts trust when one feels ‘caught on a technicality.’

There once were two English mariners, Nigel and Toby, who worked side-by-side on a fishing schooner. One of their daily duties as deckhand was to record “personnel” remarks in the captain’s log for further action or discipline.

Now it happened one night, after an extremely common drinking party aboard the vessel, these two long-time buddies got into a fight with one another. The next morning, Nigel was hung-over and unable to perform his duty on deck. His equally hung-over partner, Toby, had logging duty for the day and recorded, “Nigel totally consumed by spirits–not able to report for duty–recommend the brig.” Nigel pleaded with his companion not to record his transgression, but Toby was steadfast and said “it was the truth.”

After a fitful night of sleep and boiling anger, it was now Nigel’s morning watch and duty to make entries in the ship’s log. When Toby arrived on deck, Nigel recorded, “Let it be noted, to the astonishment of all, that Toby showed up for duty this morning and he was NOT drunk!”

Truthful? Yes. Accurate? Certainly not.