"I SWEAR by almighty God to tell the truth, the whole truth, and
nothing but the truth. Only joking!" Does speaking on oath make any
difference at all?
Despite the oaths sworn, there appears to have been some
carelessness with the truth at the Leveson inquiry. Two former
Prime Ministers, for instance, claim that Rupert Murdoch lied in
The media magnate claims never to have asked a Prime Minister
for anything, but John Major says that Mr Murdoch asked him to
change the Conservative stance on Europe, or his papers would
withdraw their support. Mr Murdoch also claims that Gordon Brown
"declared war" on him in a phone call; but both Mr Brown and the
Cabinet office records deny that such a phone call took place.
They cannot all be right. And then the former editor of The
Sun, Rebekah Brooks, said that her paper had the Browns'
permission to print a story about their son. Mr Brown denied this,
and was supported by the NHS, who said that the paper got the story
from an insider at the hospital.
But Mr Brown also said that he had never instigated or discussed
any personal attacks on Tony Blair, which left many in the press
Meanwhile, George Osborne and David Cameron said that they had
enjoyed countless dinners, Christmas Days, phone calls, text
messages, and private meetings with the News Corp hierarchy, but
we must understand that they amounted to nothing in terms of
payback. LOL was the general response - which, as Mr Cameron
learned from his own chummy text exchanges with Mrs Brooks, does
not mean "Lots Of Love", but "Laugh Out Loud".
So, what now for the oath? Does it possess the moral force to
turn a liar into a teller of truth? The Leveson inquiry suggests
that it does not, and perhaps we are not surprised.
It is one of life's ironies that the traditional court oath is
taken with the hand of the witness placed on the Bible - perhaps
the only book explicitly to reject the practice of oath-taking.
"Simply let your yes be yes, and your no, no," Jesus said.
"Anything beyond this comes from the evil one." It makes sense. If
you struggle with truth in the office, you will struggle with it in
The boundaries between forgetfulness, self-deception, and lying
are not always clear. Survival strategies that were adopted by us
when young create a brain hard-wired to deceive - a skill we take
into adult life. We invent what we need to, and retain a terrifying
capacity to believe our inventions. And the rich, it seems, are the
The Leveson inquiry is an inquiry into the culture, practice,
and ethics of the press. It is the great and the good who have been
invited to give their version of events - and it is the great and
the good who have ensured the very public death of the oath.