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If more people practiced truthiness

Invoking the spirit of Sen. Jon Kyl.

Ellen Scolnic

lives and writes in Wynnewood and cowrites the blog "Shmoozing With the Word Mavens" (

When my 15-year-old son said he was in his room doing homework, I believed him. A short while later, I heard the electronic chatter of video games coming from his room. I opened his bedroom door to find him playing on his computer.

"I thought you said you were doing homework," I said.

"That was not intended to be a factual statement," he responded.

Andy was invoking the spirit of Sen. Jon Kyl (R., Ariz.), who, during the budget battles of a month ago, contended that abortions accounted for "well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does." In reality, just 3 percent of the agency's work is related to abortion. When his blatant lie was pointed out, the senator, rather than retract or retreat, had a staffer issue a statement saying the comment was "not intended to be a factual statement."

Andy knew about Kyl's blunder because he's a longtime fan of Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart. The Colbert Report and The Daily Show were the only programs covering the story. They mocked Kyl for days, listing crazy things the senator purportedly had said or done:

"In 2009, Jon Kyl lost $380,000 wagering on dwarf tossing."

"Jon Kyl let a game-winning ground ball roll through his legs in Game 6 of the '86 World Series."

"Jon Kyl is an accomplished nude hula dancer."

Of course, each statement was followed up with the disclaimer that these reports were "not intended to be a factual statement."

But why was Comedy Central the only network to jump on the absurdity of Kyl's defense? Is it because we expect politicians to never tell the truth? If we can't expect the truth from senators, what can we expect from them? What if we expected so little truth from the regular people in our lives?

What if the waiter in the fancy restaurant who promised a "delicately sautéed fillet of pan-seared rainbow trout, floating in a pool of champagne butter reduction sauce with shallots and cilantro," placed a plate of cold, leftover meatloaf in front of you? Would all be forgiven if he commented that the announced daily specials were "not intended to be a factual statement"?

What if your bank sent you a notice that you were $23,000 overdrawn and that it was freezing your account? But when you call to question the notice, you're told that everything is OK, that bank receipts are "not intended to be a factual statement"?

To be fair, politicians have a long history of denying their missteps and mistakes. President Richard Nixon once famously declared, "I am not a crook." And two decades later, Bill Clinton was telling America, "I did not have sexual relations with that woman." But what sets Kyl apart is his refusal to bear any responsibility for what comes out of his mouth. It's just absurd that he is not being held accountable for his perversion of language, and his steadfast ability to shirk the impact of his words.