1999: Year of the Liar

Meet the people who helped make this the year of the whopper: Would you like lies with that?

Yeah, that's it, that's the ticket. —Jon Lovitz, spokesman for 1999

Was Mayor Paul Schell lying when he said Sheriff Dave Reichert was a lunatic, or was Reichert lying when he denied it?

It’s a question that only time or another reception for Nelson Mandela can answer. Still, it’s a fitting coda for 1999: a year last in the millennium but first in lying. Or is it laying?

“I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” was the year’s if not the century’s most memorable lie, by our most infamous reigning liar. The finger-wagging denial by an impeached Bill Clinton was tendered in 1998 but not emphatically disproved until 1999, the Chinese zodiac’s Year of the Rabbit—year when the first sitting president was fined for lying under oath (about sex), when Special Prosecutor Ken Starr and spokesman Charles Bakaly III lied about leaking reports (about sex), when Linda Tripp was indicted for lying to Monica Lewinsky about taping her confessions (about sex), when informant Julie Hiatt Steele was accused of lying (about sex) based on the claims of Kathleen Willey who may have lied (about sex) when saying Clinton was lying (about sex) when he denied making advances (sexual).

It was a banner year for political lying about laying compared to, say, 1992, when Clinton lied about laying only once we know of (he did not have sexual relations with that woman, Gennifer Flowers, either). But 1999 was bolstered by a bipartisan effort from those cheatin’ heart House Republicans—Helen Chenoweth (affair with married man), Dan Burton (child out of wedlock), Bob Livingston (extramarital romp), Henry Hyde (“youthful indiscretion” at age 41), and of course Newt Gingrich. The family-values ex-house speaker, who sought a divorce from his cancer-suffering first wife Jackie on her hospital bed, called seeking a divorce from his second wife Marianne during his mother’s 84th birthday party. He’s apparently planning to take his third wife, longtime House aide/girlfriend-on-the-side Callista Bisek, who’s 20 years his junior (don’t get sick or grow older, Callista!).

On the other hand, was it a lie or just a cherished dream when Jesse Ventura said he’d like to be reincarnated as a size 38DD bra?

Lies and sex made or unmade many strange bedfellows in 1999, including Phyllis Redstone, 74, who accused husband and Viacom CEO Sumner, 76, of lying about his sex affair with a younger woman, while the State of Washington accused mattress maven Sunny Kobe Cook of lying about her bedding practices. To her “Why buy a mattress anywhere else?” ads, the state gave several answers: When she promised the lowest prices in history, she meant the lowest in a year; when she said they were bargain priced, she meant full priced; and when she said the sale ends this week, she meant next month. Cook paid a $62,500 settlement without admitting any wrongdoing. She just promised not to do it again.

So did a deflated Pamela Anderson Lee. The Baywatch babe said she felt “much sexier” after having her breast implants removed—although didn’t she honestly mean to say “less talented”? And when actress Gloria Stewart, widow of Jimmy, revealed she was still having regular sex at age 89, we naturally thought she was lying. Turns out she’s just “devoted to masturbation.”

Speaking of religious experiences, elders of Overlake Christian Church this year finally conceded that resigned pastor Bob Moorehead had lied when he denied molesting at least 17 male church members since the 1970s. Church officials nonetheless sent the truth a-spin, concluding that Moorehead merely violated “the scriptural standards of trust, self-control, purity, and godly character required for the office of elder and pastor”—nothing about his hands-on management style.

By the way, California surf shop owner Tom Moore doesn’t claim to be a choir boy, but “deviate” is a stretch, he insists. Radio nag Dr. Laura Schlessinger claimed Moore was promoting pornography among kids after she discovered a copy of Big Brother Skateboarding magazine at his Costa Mesa shop. She called it “stealth pornography.” When Moore had the audacity to deny it, Dr. Tut-tut sued him for lying, claiming his denial was a slur on her (she lost faster than you can say “Clublove.com,” the stealthy Seattle porn site featuring the good doctor’s home-exam photos).

Sex, lies and—OK, let’s go to the 1999 videotapes, that “creative” genre of infomercials, TV psychics, phone sex, professional wrestling, Drudges, and Geraldos, along with the taped deposition of our noninhaling but heavy-breathing president explaining oral sex was not sex, just a darn lot of fun, and patiently defining what is, is. That semantic dodge seemingly couldn’t be topped until Bill Gates sought to define what definition is.

During the video deposition he gave as part of Microsoft’s antitrust battle with the US, Chairman Bill was asked by litigator David Boies about a definition Gates had used. What did he mean by that?

Gates instead wanted to know what Boies meant by meaning?

“If,” said the Nerd Leader of the World, “you define ‘definition’ for this conversation in a loose way, then I’ll understand what you mean.”

“What you need in order to understand the question is to have me define what is meant by ‘definition’?” Boies asked.

“At least loosely,” Gates said.

Boies was game. “What I mean by definition is what you meant by definition when you said that you wouldn’t have answered this question unless you had a definition of a word.”

There you go. Gates also couldn’t agree on what the meaning of “concerned” is, what exactly a “browser” was, and at one point asked what the prosecutor meant by the term “we,” Kemosabe. Gates felt he “answered every question completely, truthfully, through many, many, many long days,” even after the micromanaging CEO responded don’t know, don’t remember, and don’t recall more than 200 times.

Both Bills were under oath, of course, as was onetime HUD secretary Henry Cisneros when the FBI first asked him about payments he made to ex-mistress Linda Jones. But lying can prove cost-effective: Charged with 18 felonies for making false statements, Cisneros walked away this year with a $10,000 fine for one big fib. Paul Allen’s denials were likewise given under oath. But the billionaire settled out of court with his former California business partner Abbie Phillips, who claimed Allen fondled her breast in the billionaire’s Mercer Island bedroom then let himself into her guest room “attempting to have sexual relations with her.” Kind of put the damper on their plan to make movies for kids.

Speaking of oaths, Pierce County Superior Court Judge Grant Anderson—who used to administer them—was removed from the bench this year for getting a good deal on a $31,000 Cadillac: free. The Caddy’s $800 monthly payments were made by a banker who, in turn, was buying a bowling alley through judge/attorney Anderson from one of his client’s estates. Anderson claimed he reduced the alley’s price by $92,000 because the banker bought it after league season ended. The state Supreme Court ruled that a gutter ball.

The season for new Husky football coach Rick Neuheisel, meanwhile, started with a mental error. Some even thought he was lying when he said he just “forgot” the rules on recruiting players, which led to infractions and school penalties. His replacement at Colorado apparently thought the worst, noting during a TV interview that “Only Rick knows” whether the violations were intentional. Said Neuheisel: “He never directly called me a liar, but anybody looking at that footage would come to that conclusion.” OK, we did. Neuheisel’s new employer, meanwhile, after years of denying it had illegally overbilled Medicare for implant surgeries, this year agreed to pay $3.6 million to the US to settle the lawsuit. The UW also denied any wrongdoing—but hey, look at the footage.

No one was saying Boeing was lying either, although the FAA this year began an unprecedented audit of the Everett, Renton, and Auburn commercial airplane assembly lines, seeking to determine if the Lazy B was telling the truth about its quality control checks. Of course that’s life in the big industry fast lane, where lies, truth, and spin are often indistinguishable (Nordstrom and Cutter & Buck denied selling wares made by sweatshop labor in the Marianas, but agreed to pay $1.25 million to prevent such practices). One of the most telling corporate moments of 1999 was Leo Hindery, chief of AT&T’s newly acquired TCI cable system, solemnly preaching that TCI “cannot . . . must not” inflate monthly subscriber fees in the wake of deregulation— followed a few days later by TCI’s 4.5 percent rate increase for Puget Sound customers. Oh, and thanks a lot, Leo, for those one million new channels, and still nothing on.

Speaking of TV, 1999 was also the Say What? Year of the George Foreman Grill and the Jim Forman Gas Mask: If you missed it, his live behind-the-mask WTO report on KING went “Mmmph, grmmph, mmnph, mmph!” (Apparent translation: “You hippie bitch!”). And kudos to anyone who could read or hear the fine-print qualifiers on those new car TV ads. Still, 1999 was also the year that Washington state’s new law against advertising prevarication took effect. Alas, the ban is limited to lying about opponents in political campaign ads—bringing a fine of up to $2,500 for each untruth.

Most unfortunately, the new law apparently can’t be applied to US Rep. George Nethercutt, who told what turns out to be a political whopper. You may remember he defeated then-House Speaker Tom Foley in 1994 by promising to abide by a self-imposed three-term limit. Now he says, “I made a mistake,” and plans to run for reelection.

Apparently some voters think they made a mistake, too: They’ve created a “George the Weasel King” caricature they plan to hoist at Nethercutt campaign appearances as a reminder of the broken pledge (a move inspired by a Garry Trudeau Doonesbury strip that pictured Nethercutt as the Weasel King). His onetime ally, the US Term Limits organization, has pledged $1 million to defeat Nethercutt, unable to forget one of his first speeches on the House floor: “I rise today in strong support for term limitations which . . . will assure that new people with new energy and new ideas will come to serve in this body and serve the American people.”

Guess we can add that to the list of history’s Greatest Lies: “The check is in the mail,” “I won’t put it in all the way,” and “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.” In the latter category, Carol Browner, Environmental Protection Agency administrator, vowed at a Seattle Town Hall session that she “will never, ever change an air-pollution standard which I set,” prompting some audience members to moan and shout “Liar!” Similarly, when Seattle City Council President Sue Donaldson was arguing during a meeting that the city had to charge Seattle’s new WNBA franchise $20,000 for Key Arena maintenance, a more polite audience just mumbled “Liar.” But Donaldson was wary of liars herself, expressing her “concern that we do not run into the same trap [that basketball] set for us the last time.” Hey, Sue, sports is just a game. Ask Ken Griffey Enterprises.

Speaking of spoiled capitalist sporting dogs: Despite those tearful promises from chairman John Ellis that the Mariners would pay all cost overruns for our global-record $517 million baseball stadium, Safeco Field, the M’s have given the Public Facilities District a tab for “unanticipated capital costs” of more than $60 million, payable by taxpayers (M’s lying can be contagious: The PFD originally denied the M’s had said anything about rising costs when they already had the bill in hand). Ellis’ replacement, the dry-eyed Howard Lincoln, is adamant about getting more money. As he puts it, baseball “is a business, not a charity.” Then why the fug have we given them all this money!

OK, we’re calm now, though still wondering if it was a lie or just superb hyperbole when Time magazine labeled resigning Seattle police chief Norman Stamper as “Barney Fife with a latte.” And let’s not leave 1999 before acknowledging the Big Lie of the year: multibillion market capitalization of such ubiquitous and rickety online houses of cards as Amazon.com, whose founder, Jeff Bezos, was selected as Time‘s Man of the Year for 1999. How fitting.

As we shamble towards 2000, Alexander Cockburn expects George W. to pick up where Bill C. leaves off: “Turns out,” the writer observes, “George W. Bush is an even more incompetent liar than Bill Clinton, which is saying a good deal. With Bill you can always tell that he’s about to lay another stretcher on the American people. A rapt look creeps into his eyes, like a Baptist preacher in midflow. George W., doubtless after costly instruction from experts, seeks to achieve the appearance of honest disclosure by pausing and fixing his interlocutors with a bold gaze. It doesn’t work. He looks like a man about to tell a lie.” And that’s without anyone even asking about the savings and loan fiasco.

Which may leave us with Al “Father of the Internet” Gore. Didn’t he also lie about soliciting party funds from the White House? We may never know, since Janet Reno still won’t call in that special prosecutor. Maybe she figures the Vice Cardboard has enough problems trying to master, as reporters say he attempted aboard Air Force Two, the dance footwork to Booty Call.

As the millennium nears (except for 2001 purists), we’re running out of time and space—sorry, no room left today for all those media lies, save for that confession by China Youth Daily that it has been faking weather reports since 1963—and no one noticed. Take a deep breath and think positive about the year past. Everyone couldn’t have lied, could they? Sure, even those we pay to serve and protect us invented excuses for bashing passive demonstrators and stealing $10,000 from a Seattle crime scene. But then along comes Pullman police officer Scott Patrick.

Asked by a reporter if the boozing crackdown at Washington State University really, truly had an affect on campus drunkenness, Patrick reflected briefly, then piped a loud and clear “No.” And, he added, “I’d be a liar if I told you otherwise.”

Guess it just wasn’t Scott’s year.