Using the Truth Sandwich

I am adding the Truth Sandwich to the menu of my verbal self-defense classes. It solves a problem that we all have: what do you say when someone says something you know to be blatantly false?

The goal:

  • Don’t repeat the lie. Repetition makes it stronger.
  • Say the truth without room for argument or debate.
  • Repeat the truth twice to any reference to what the lie was about.

What not to do:

  • Don’t repeat the lie. That just advertises the falsehood.
  • Don’t try to refute it, fact for fact. This doesn’t work. Human brains question facts that don’t match our worldviews. (I’ve written about this).  When you try this, it often comes off as defensive.
  • Don’t take the high road and ignore it. Then the lie goes unchallenged. Your silence can be read as agreement. If you are a journalist, use a truth sandwich whenever you are repeating false stories. 

It’s a tried and true political tactic. Create a negative story and repeat it, over and over. It wasn’t invented this millennia. Some of these slanders stick. They match the world-view of those who believe it.

So, what can you do when someone repeats a falsehood?

So, here we go again. Looking to 2020. The meme is already out there that Elizabeth Warren and her Native heritage. I saw an explanation and example of the Truth Sandwich in relation to Warren’s DNA story.

That’s why it’s important to talk first and last about the truth — “when you repeat something, you’re strengthening it in people’s brains.”  And so whenever the issue of Senator Warren’s DNA comes up, here is the simple message that we ALL need to repeat over and over:

“Warren showed that she is truthful and, unlike a lot of Republicans, won’t be bullied by Trump.  Trump promised to give a million dollars to charity if Warren took a DNA test that showed that she has Native American heritage, but, when she did just that, he broke his promise, as he so often does.**  Warren is a fighter and will fight for middle class and poor Americans, too.”

Period.  The end.  No long debates about whether her tactic was wise, no deep dives into how much Native American ancestry one needs in order to have been listed a long time ago in a law school directory, no second guesses about whether she should have let him goad her into any action.

She’s a fighter.  He broke his promise.  She’ll fight for us. [Source]

The Truth Sandwich is a variation on “Naming the Behavior”

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has it down. When Fox News tried to take her down, she answered the repeated accusations with a quick denial, while calling out the behavior of the lie-spreaders. She’s been denying false accusation, and naming the repeated lies, regularly, in regard to what she wears.

Watch how Fox News does their truth sandwich. They agree that Washington D.C. is very expensive (their base will agree with that).  They acknowledge that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has a big audience of people who can relate to her search for affordable housing. But listen closely how they dismiss her as playing to her audience, then imply that she’s a fake and not working-class at all. [source]

Judy Miller started with “She’s playing her race.” Then talked about rents in Washington, D.C. Then she says either “It’s a brilliant political line” or “It’s a brilliant political lie”.

The last speaker, Ed Henry, repeats a fully refuted false story and says something vague about her spending formative years outside of New York City.

Learn from George Lakoff

George Lakoff studies cognitive science and language. I have been following him for years. I recommend you read his skinny little book Don’t Think of an Elephant before primary season heats up. In an interview with on Vox he summarizes his theories about framing and why the journalists keep getting caught in the same trap of repeating lies and amplifying them.


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