By
updated 1/7/2004 5:41:47 PM ET 2004-01-07T22:41:47

When does a lie really get you into trouble?  I‘ve been thinking a lot about it lately with all these high-profile stories about lies.  I used to think the worst place to lie is under oath. 

Perjury is a serious crime.  And yet, Martha Stewart has had the book thrown at her facing up to 30 years for lying, not under oath, but because she denied the allegations against her, and said she had a previous order in place to buy that now infamous ImClone stock.  Apparently, prosecutors don't like believing they‘re being lied to.

This is especially true when the alleged lies are about them or their colleagues -- that's what led the Santa Barbara D.A. to threaten to charge Michael Jackson with additional crimes. He said he was manhandled during his arrest by sheriff's deputies.  They believe that's a lie, but that's just a misdemeanor charge.  (I guess that's the legal equivalent of a 'white lie.')

Now Bill Clinton lied under oath, and yet he just had his law license suspended and got a fine.  Of course, Congress wasn't going to just leave it to the courts.  He almost lost his big job as well. 

I remember so many people repeatedly saying that Clinton's lie was different because it was under oath --  and yet it seems pretty clear that even in the eyes of the law, it's not just that oath that matters, as much as where and when you tell the lie. 

What about Pete Rose, who admits he‘s been lying for 14 years about betting on baseball? He wants to be rewarded for that by being allowed back into the game. 

Maybe it's that the lie doesn't matter as much, if you come clean.  But is lying about stock trades so much worse than lying about gambling? 

So here's my guess on the basic rules of lying:

  1. Don't lie to anyone who can get you back—and don‘t lie if the world is watching.
  2. If you‘re going to lie, make sure you cover your tracks really well. 
  3. It’s also good to ‘fess up and admit it, but make sure you wait until many years later until the initial lie is almost forgotten. 

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,