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Mark Kurlansky: A history of the ‘Big Lie,’ from Plato to TikTok

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Mark Kurlansky: A History Of The ‘Big Lie,’ From Plato To Tiktok
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A long time ago, a respected social critic expressed concern that a new medium would lead to lying.

The year was 375 BCE, the critic was Plato and the still relatively new medium was the written word, which, despite his many reservations, he used to circulate his oral dialogues with Socrates.

Today, we’re again worried about the power of new media to facilitate lying. This time, it’s the internet, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok. But if you look back at history, lying is as old as humans (older really, since some animals practice deception). And every advance in communication down through history has facilitated it.

Plato, though he was concerned about the written word, wasn’t actually opposed to lying under all circumstances. In fact, he believed societies needed what he called “a grand lie,” a deception intentionally spun to serve a civic purpose, a great national myth that would help forge a nation’s identity.

The myth we believed for so long about George Washington and the cherry tree is an example of the Platonic grand lie. In the early years of the country, the United States felt the need for good founding lies, and Washington, the tall, well-spoken, heroic founding father, seemed the perfect subject.

In the sixth edition of his Washington biography in 1806, author Mason Locke Weems described young George chopping down a cherry tree and confessing to his father, “I cannot tell a lie.” But this parable on lying was itself a lie. It remained popular for generations, and ultimately outlived the book.

The printing press, invented in the 15th century, helped spread lies too, just as the written word had. After the English Civil War in the 17th century, lies defaming Oliver Cromwell kept the presses busy. In 1665, a fake cookbook, supposedly by Cromwell’s wife but full of fraudulent attacks on her husband, was published. The lying cookbook was invented.

One of the most successful examples of lying in print was a pamphlet first circulated in Russia in 1905. It was so clumsily written and so obviously untrue that it should have died quickly. Instead “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” has been translated into many languages, is still being published and is widely available on social media today.

The “Protocols” claimed to be the stolen notes of a meeting of a secret organization of Jewish leaders conspiring to take over the world. There never was such a meeting because there never was such an organization. That the “Protocols” still survives proves the durability of unconvincing lies and the utter unoriginality of today’s liars.

With the growth of newspapers, new opportunities for lying emerged. Now a liar needed only to convince a reporter in order to spread a lie to a mass audience. At the beginning of World War I in August 1914, the French spread false reports of atrocities in German-occupied Belgium to motivate allied soldiers. A London Times correspondent reported that a German soldier had “chopped off the arms of a baby which clung to his mother’s skirts.”

Several subsequent inquiries failed to produce any evidence that such atrocities ever occurred.

Between 1928 and 1933, failed Soviet policies caused millions to die of famine in Ukraine. Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times correspondent Walter Duranty reported, “There is no famine or starvation, nor is there likely to be.” Malcolm Muggeridge, a seasoned journalist also covering the tragedy, later characterized Duranty as “the greatest liar of any journalist I have met in 50 years of journalism.”

The Soviets tried to conceal the Ukraine tragedy by a lying technique known as “the Potemkin village.” A Potemkin village was a staged scene of prosperity for invited viewers. The respected French leader Edouard Herriot arranged a fact-finding mission to the Ukraine. On the day before his arrival, peasants were made to clean the streets and decorate the houses. Shop windows were filled with food, but the locals were not allowed to buy it or even to press too close to the windows.

There have also been American Potemkin villages. American cities have had paper constructions and lighting to make slums look better for sporting events.

The whole idea of a Potemkin village, by the way, is a lie itself. Gregory Potemkin, a government minister and lover to 18th century Russian Empress Catherine II, allegedly built prosperous fake villages to make the countryside appear more affluent for the empress’ 1787 boat tour of the Crimea. As it turned out, however, a Finnish diplomat and a Saxon one invented these stories to make it seem like the Russians were desperately covering up their failures.

Radio was a big step forward for lying. Father Charles Coughlin, a Catholic priest in Michigan whose antisemitic radio broadcasts were extremely popular in 1930s America, referred to the “Protocols” as evidence of a Jewish conspiracy. Coughlin was a pioneer in talk radio, spewing out lies on the radio with no one to contradict him.

But the great master of radio lying was Hitler’s propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels. “It would not have been possible for us to take power or to use it in the ways we have without the radio,” he once said. He distributed radios to the public. Having one of these official radios was a sign of being a good Nazi, not only because they were decorated with swastikas, but because they were only capable of picking up Nazi Party frequencies.

But all sides were using the radio to get their stories out. In 1945, as World War II ended, Alexandre Koyré, a French philosopher and science historian, commented, “Never has there been so much lying as in our day. Never has lying been so shameless, so systematic, so unceasing.”

The exact same thing is being said today about the rise of social media. But there are differences now.

Social media celebrates amateurism. Any idiot can weigh in.

And it’s easy to use effectively. Donald Trump can put out an immense volume of lies on his own and dispatch them to tens of millions of people in a moment. Goebbels required a staff of nearly 1,000 professional liars.

And there is something else: Only a small portion of listeners believe a lie when they hear it. If you lie to 100 people you might get two or three believers, and if you lie to thousands, you might get hundreds. So what happens when you lie to millions on the internet?

Mark Kurlansky is the author of “Big Lies: From Socrates to Social Media,” which will be published on Sept. 27. He wrote this column for the Los Angeles Times.

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Nearing a return, Twins outfielder Trevor Larnach suffers setback with wrist

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Nearing A Return, Twins Outfielder Trevor Larnach Suffers Setback With Wrist
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Nearly three months after having a bilateral repair to address a core muscle injury, outfielder Trevor Larnach was on the verge of returning to the Twins — possibly even this weekend. He felt great, he said, and he was excited to get back to try to help an injury-depleted Twins’ roster.

And then, another setback, the latest twist to a frustrating season for Larnach. This one appears as if it will end his season, though the Twins have not yet made that announcement. During a rehab game with the Triple-A Saints this week, Larnach took a swing and felt something with his wrist.

“The next day, I couldn’t hold a bat,” he said. “Ever since then, it’s been rehab again, so as frustrating as it is, there’s not much I can do about it.”

Larnach, 25, played five rehab games for the Saints, the last coming on Sept. 21, before he was shut down. He was in the Twins’ clubhouse on Sunday morning, though not because an activation is near, manager Rocco Baldelli said.

“He’s here more to get looked at, spend a little time around the guys, too, but mainly to get seen by the medical guys,” Baldelli said.

Larnach has played in just 51 games this season for the Twins after being recalled from Triple-A, where he started the season, in early April. Larnach dealt with a groin strain in May before landing on the IL again in late June. He hit .231 with a .712 OPS, but he spent most of the season mired in the rehab process down at the Twins’ complex in Fort Myers, Fla.

While outside doctors initially gave him an optimistic outlook of six weeks to heal after his core muscle surgery, he quickly came to realize that he would need more time than that to recover after his late-June surgery.

“You learn really quick that that’s not really even reasonable, especially for a professional athlete trying to play at their highest level,” Larnach said. “It wasn’t really relevant to me. I had to take a step back to look at what I needed to do to feel really good. I did that, and I learned a lot from it.”

The rehab process, he said, had him working constantly, with the Twins’ training staff, at home on his own and with specialists as he tried to get back. Should he be healthy enough, Larnach said he has given some thought to the possibility of playing winter ball to make up for some of the playing time he missed this season.

“Trust me: I wasn’t there for a vacation. I was there to try and be healthy as soon as possible. I learned from it,” Larnach said. “I felt great coming back. I thought I did a really, really good job going through that whole process. But then this thing was just kind of really, really unexpected.”


Royce Lewis, another big piece of the Twins’ future, was in the clubhouse over the weekend, reuniting with his teammates and writing hand-written thank-you notes to those who had helped him this season.

The 23-year-old shortstop has been rehabbing in Fort Myers after undergoing a second surgery on his anterior cruciate ligament in June. At this point, he hasn’t been doing much activity, though he said he’s in a stage where he’s slowly starting to transition to add in more. Lewis plans to stay in Fort Myers through October before heading home to continue his rehab.

Lewis missed all of last season after tearing his ACL before spring training. After a year-long rehab process, Lewis returned healthy and performed well both at Triple-A and his brief taste of the majors —  he slashed .300/.317/.550 with a .867 OPS in 12 games with the Twins — before reinjuring his knee during a collision with the outfield wall.

“Obviously (the) same injury, but totally different. The procedure was different. Everything about it feels different,” Lewis said. “I feel a lot better than I did before. I don’t know why that is, but I’ll take it.”


The Twins played a video tribute to Kurt Suzuki, who is set to retire after this season. Suzuki played for the Twins for three seasons between 2014-16. The 38-year-old catcher has played for the Angels the past two seasons.

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Rihanna will headline the Super Bowl halftime show

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Rihanna Will Headline The Super Bowl Halftime Show
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Rihanna will be the “Only Girl” at the Super Bowl halftime show.

The “Umbrella” singer announced her new gig Sunday, sharing a photo on social media of a hand holding a football in the air that was then retweeted by the NFL and Roc Nation, which has a long-term deal with the NFL to “advise” on the halftime show performer.

With week 3 of the NFL underway, Super Bowl 2023 is still almost five months out but the headlining gig was already cause for rampant rumor-mongering.

Taylor Swift, who has a new album due out in October, was the talk of the town late last week, but reportedly passed until she rerecords all of her albums to get out from under the control of former manager Scooter Braun.

The “Shut Up and Drive” singer was previously offered the stage at the 2020 championship, but turned down the job in support of Colin Kaepernick.

“I just couldn’t be a sellout, I couldn’t be an enabler,” she told Vogue in October 2019. “There’s things within that organization that I do not agree with at all, and I was not about to go and be of service to them in any way.”

Super Bowl LVII is scheduled to be played on Feb. 12 at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.

Last year’s show was headlined by Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Eminem, Mary J. Blige, Kendrick Lamar and 50 Cent at SoFi Stadium.


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Week 3 updates: Boos out at Soldier Field as Chicago Bears trail Houston Texans — and they could be without RB David Montgomery

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Week 3 Updates: Boos Out At Soldier Field As Chicago Bears Trail Houston Texans — And They Could Be Without Rb David Montgomery
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The 1-1 Chicago Bears will host the 0-1-1 Houston Texans at Soldier Field in a Week 3 matchup. Here’s the latest updates.

Get our free Bears alerts | Get Brad Biggs’ 10 thoughts on the Bears first | More Bears news

At halftime

As the clock ran out in the second quarter with the Texans leading the Bears 14-13 some boos could be heard across Soldier Field.

Bears quarterback Justin Fields completed just 4 of 11 passes for 45 yards, no touchdowns, an interception and an 11.6 passer rating in the half, which ended with the Texans’ third sack as time ran out. The Bears had timeouts to use but didn’t to try to get in a deep shot.

Playing without David Montgomery, who left in the first quarter with right knee and ankle injuries, running back Khalil Herbert rushed for 64 yards and rookie Trestan Ebner rushed for 23 yards. Fields also had 47 yards rushing.

The Bears were threatening to retake the lead late in the second quarter but couldn’t come up with a big play.

On third-and-5, Fields hit tight end Cole Kmet with a 24-yard pass — Kmet’s first catch of the year — to get to the Texans’ 27-yard line. But the Bears offense stalled three plays later when Jerry Hughes sacked Fields for a loss of 9 yards. Bears kicker Cairo Santos made a 50-yard field instead to cut it 14-13.

Santos made a 47-yard field goal on the game’s opening drive for a 3-0 lead. And Herbert scored on an 11-yard touchdown run after Montgomery left the game to make it 10-0.

But Davis Mills’ 4-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Akins cut the Bears’ lead to 10-7. That drive included a 52-yard pass to Chris Moore.

And the Texans took a 14-10 lead on Dameon Pierce’s 1-yard touchdown run with 7:32 to play in the second quarter. Pierce had four carries for 41 yards on the drive, which started with Desmond King’s 30-yard punt return.

Bears safety Eddie Jackson forced a fumble and had an interception in the first quarter.

The Texans recovered the fumble, but the pick came at a key moment. With the Texans threatening to take a lead at the Bears’ 7-yard line, cornerback Kindle Vildor broke up Davis Mills’ pass to Brandin Cooks in the end zone. Jackson grabbed it out of the air but stepped out of the back of the end zone. The Bears got the ball on their 20.

Jackson’s pick came after Fields threw a pass to Kmet that Texans safety Jalen Pitre intercepted.

Injury update

David Montgomery went down with a right leg injury midway through the first quarter. After the trainers tended to him for a few minutes, he walked off the field on his own into the medical tent. He then left the tent to go to the locker room.

The Bears announced Montgomery has a knee and ankle injury and is doubtful to return. Wide receiver Byron Pringle also is doubtful to return because of a calf injury.

Running back Khalil Herbert entered the game after Montgomery left and had carries of 8 and 11 yards and then scored on an 11-yard touchdown run to put the Bears up 10-0 midway through the first quarter.

Week 3 inactives announced

Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson will miss Sunday’s game against the Texans with a quad injury he suffered in practice Thursday.

But linebacker Roquan Smith, who missed practice all week with a hip injury, will play.

Linebacker Matt Adams, safety Dane Cruikshank and rookie wide receiver Velus Jones Jr. all are inactive with hamstring injuries. Tight end Ryan Griffin will sit out with an Achilles injury, and offensive lineman Ja’Tyre Carter also is inactive.

Johnson’s absence is big for a young Bears secondary. Opposing teams largely have stayed away from targeting Johnson, instead going after rookie Kyler Gordon, who moves between outside cornerback and nickel, and Kindle Vildor. Gordon had a rough night against Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in Week 2.

For the Texans, tight end Brevin Jordan, wide receiver Tyler Johnson, defensive back Isaac Yiadom, linebacker Jake Hansen, offensive lineman Austin Deculus and defensive lineman Kurt Hinish are inactive.

Soldier Field guide — and a weather report

There’s a slight chance of rain in Sunday’s forecast, but nowhere near the amount of precipitation fans endured in the Week 1 win over the 49ers (so, no Slip ‘N Slide celebrations this time around). The expected high is set for 69 degrees, with wind of the WNW at 19 mph.

Chicago experiences higher temperatures longer than outlying suburbs due to the heat-island effect. Its location next to Lake Michigan’s warm waters explains why the city and nearby suburbs freeze later in the year than their farther-out counterparts.

Locally, the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center is forecasting temperatures leaning above normal and “equal chances” of above or below precipitation from October through December.

If you’re headed to Soldier Field, here’s our guide — including where (and what) to tailgate. And no, you won’t be hearing the Bear Raid siren this year.

OC defends the Bears’ run-pass balance

The comparisons were all over social media this week.

Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields has 28 pass attempts in two games this season. Every other team in the league has at least 28 completions and 52 attempts.

The Bears’ measly passing-game numbers, which total 15 completions and 191 yards, have dominated talk, with coach Matt Eberflus saying the Bears need to strive for a better balance in the running and passing games.

Offensive coordinator Luke Getsy understands it: “I love to throw because I’m a quarterback guy, right?”

And surely Getsy knows Fields needs to throw to develop in his second season. But Getsy also believes in following a plan tailored to what a defense is presenting them. Read the full story here.

Latest stadium news from Arlington Heights

Arlington Heights officials rejected a petition to ban village financial incentives for Chicago Bears or any other business, stating that the petition didn’t have enough valid signatures — and warning that such a move would hurt businesses and taxpayers.

The petition calls for the village to create an “Anti-Corporate Welfare Ordinance” that would prohibit any financial or other incentive to a business to operate in the village. The petition was submitted by Americans for Prosperity Illinois, part of a libertarian group backed by the conservative Koch brothers. Read the full story here and read all our coverage here.

Miss anything this week? Catch up on our coverage.

  • 5 things to watch in the Bears-Texans game — plus our Week 3 predictions
  • Column: Patience is required to evaluate QB Justin Fields — especially with the Bears offense around him
  • Bears QB Justin Fields says ‘my job is not to call pass plays’ after attempting only 11 passes in a lopsided loss
  • 12 eye-catching numbers as the Bears prepare to face the Texans
  • Column: Justin Fields apologized to Bears fans. It was mature and sincere — but also unnecessary.
  • Bears Q&A with Brad Biggs: Do the coaches doubt Justin Fields as a passer? What is with Kyler Gordon’s rookie struggles?


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Three shot in St. Paul Saturday night at large gathering on White Bear Avenue

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Three Shot In St. Paul Saturday Night At Large Gathering On White Bear Avenue
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St. Paul police are investigating a shooting Saturday night in which three people were shot at a strip mall where a large group of people were gathered, several of them reportedly under the influence or inebriated.

None of the injuries appeared to be life-threatening, police say.

About 11:30 p.m. officers were called to the 1600 block of White Bear Avenue on a report of a man shot. When the arrived they found two additional shooting victims, according to police Sgt. Mike Ernster.

All three had gunshot wounds in their lower extremities, such as their legs and buttocks, and were taken to the hospital, Ernster said.

A fourth man was treated for a laceration to his head. It wasn’t clear whether the cut came from a fight or a fall from the confusion when the shooting started, Ernster said.

The location of the shooting was at a strip mall that holds an event center where more than 300 people can gather. It was unclear what type of event, if any, was being held, Ernster said, but a large number of people were at the location when police arrived. Officers said some of those they encountered were under the influence or inebriated.

As of Sunday the shootings were still under investigation.

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Tua Tagovailoa exits Dolphins-Bills game after late hit, is questionable to return

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Tua Tagovailoa Exits Dolphins-Bills Game After Late Hit, Is Questionable To Return
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Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa left the team’s game against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday after a late hit that resulted in a roughing-the-passer penalty deep into the first half.

Tagovailoa escaped pressure on a third-and-3 play right before the two-minute warning, threw a pass that was completed to wide receiver Jaylen Waddle, and was pushed to the ground after the throw by linebacker Matt Milano. The back of Tagovailoa’s head banged against the ground in a whiplash effect.

Tagovailoa was walked off the field and into the locker room, under his own power, with trainers alongside him. He is officially questionable to return with a head injury.

The Dolphins have a quick turnaround for Thursday Night Football, facing the Bengals on the road in Cincinnati and Tagovailoa’s availability for that game could be in doubt.

The Dolphins and Bills were tied at 14 at the time of the injury and going into halftime. Tagovailoa was 8 of 10 for 76 yards with a touchdown pass when he exited. Backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater then entered for Miami’s third-year signal-caller.

It’s the third consecutive time Tagovailoa gets hurt in a meeting with the Bills. In last year’s Week 2 meeting in Miami Gardens, an A.J. Epenesa hit sidelined Tagovailoa with fractured ribs and put him on short-term injured reserve to miss the ensuing three weeks. In the 2021 Oct. 31 game in Orchard Park, Tagovailoa finished the game but came away with a finger injury on his throwing hand that cost him the next one and a half games.

The Bills struck first on their opening drive Sunday that was capped by a fourth-down 1-yard pass from Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen to an open Devin Singletary in the end zone. Allen was 6 of 6 for 70 yards on the opening series after his first completion, a 28-yard strike over the middle to Stefon Diggs, was nearly a fumble lost with Diggs losing the back. It was ruled that cornerback Xavien Howard barely contacted the receiver.

The Dolphins defense set the offense up to tie later in the first quarter. Jevon Holland broke free on a safety blitz for a strip-sack on Allen, and outside linebacker Melvin Ingram recovered the fumble at the Buffalo 6-yard line. Miami scored on a Chase Edmonds plunge from a yard away after a pass to Trent Sherfield got the team to the 1-yard line.

Buffalo responded early in the second quarter with Allen again finding another South Florida product, Isaiah McKenzie, wide open for a short touchdown pass. The Bills picked up the Dolphins blitz on third-and-goal from the 8-yard line, with Singletary blocking Holland in the backfield.

Tagovailoa responded with a nine-play, 83-yard drive yard that was capped by a touchdown pass to practice-squad elevation River Cracraft, his second touchdown in as many weeks up from the practice squad. Tagovailoa threw a dart to Cracraft for the 11-yard scoring strike after also completing chunk plays to Waddle and Tyreek Hill earlier in the drive.

This story will be updated.


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Ravens LT Patrick Mekari, OLB Justin Houston, DT Michael Pierce exit game vs. Patriots as injury woes continue

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Ravens Lt Patrick Mekari, Olb Justin Houston, Dt Michael Pierce Exit Game Vs. Patriots As Injury Woes Continue
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Ravens left tackle Patrick Mekari (ankle), outside linebacker Justin Houston (groin) and defensive tackle Michael Pierce (left arm) suffered injuries during the first half of Sunday’s Week 3 matchup against the New England Patriots, continuing a worrying trend after last season’s injury-marred season.

Mekari suffered a left ankle injury during the first quarter, further depleting an already banged-up offensive line.

Baltimore was facing a third-and-5 with 9:42 on the clock when Mekari stepped on running back Justice Hill’s foot while blocking a New England defender. Mekari punched the field in frustration before being taken to the medical tent and was later carted to the locker room with his shoe and sock removed form his left leg.

Mekari, who signed a three-year extension Dec. 30 and has served as a versatile piece of the offensive line since joining Baltimore as an undrafted free agent in 2019, is questionable to return Sunday.

With Mekari out, the Ravens are down to their fourth-string left tackle. Ronnie Stanley is still working his way back from an ankle injury, while Ja’Wuan James suffered a season-ending torn Achilles tendon in Baltimore’s season opener against the New York Jets.

Rookie Daniel Faalele, who did not play a single snap at left tackle at Minnesota, replaced Mekari and allowed a sack during the Ravens’ 11-play, 69-yard scoring drive that ended with quarterback Lamar Jackson throwing a 5-yard touchdown pass to Mark Andrews with 4:14 left.

Early in the second quarter, the Ravens announced that Houston was questionable to return with a groin injury. The Ravens are also thin at outside linebacker, as Steven Means suffered a season-ending torn Achilles tendon last week and Tyus Bowser and rookie David Ojabo are recovering from the same injury. Brandon Copeland, who was signed to the practice squad on Wednesday and elevated for Sunday’s game, replaced Houston.

Pierce, who signed a three-year deal with the Ravens in the offseason, suffered an apparent left arm injury after trying to tackle Patriots running back Rhamondre Stevenson with 7:38 left in the second quarter. Pierce walked to the sideline under his own power while grabbing his left arm and was eventually carted off into the locker room. He is questionable to return.

This story will be updated.


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