VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton
WRITTEN BY: Andy Hammersmith
You can't sweep the truth under the rug. For this list, we'll be looking at the most memorable times politicians were dishonest on camera. Our countdown includes Anthony Weiner's Photos, Reagan on the Iran-Contra Affair, George W. Bush on Iraq, and more!
Top 10 Times Politicians Got Caught Lying on Live TV
Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Times Politicians Got Caught Lying on Live TV.
For this list, we’ll be looking at the most memorable times politicians were dishonest on camera. These leaders distorted facts and were later found out to be lying with sometimes historical implications.
Did we forget an infamous political lie? Let us know in the comments below.
#10: Anthony Weiner’s Photos
New York congressman Anthony Weiner’s career and personal life slowly unraveled over the course of a tumultuous few years. After he sent an explicit photo to a 21 year old woman via Twitter, he blamed ‘hackers’ and suggested the photo had been doctored. After more photos emerged, Weiner came clean - admitting that he had sent salacious images to several women. Apologizing to his family and supporters, he resigned his seat in Congress in 2011. He tried to reignite his political prospects in 2013, only for more sexts to be released - dating from after his resignation! His wife divorced him, and he later served time for transferring obscene material to a minor.
#9: LBJ & the Gulf of Tonkin Incident
In August 1964, US President Lyndon B. Johnson cited two alleged confrontations in the Gulf of Tonkin to escalate the United States’ military presence in Vietnam. However, it turns out the second confrontation never happened. Despite growing doubts around the incident, Johnson’s administration chose to rely on misinterpreted communications. In the years since, the subsequent Gulf of Tonkin resolution has been widely criticized as the flashpoint for the ensuing war. LBJ would later decide against running for re-election in 1968, partly because of his fading popularity. Only in 2003 was it revealed that the second attack didn’t occur, and that the administration knew about it for years.
#8: Rob Ford on His Drug Use
Rob Ford’s tenure as the mayor of Toronto took an unexpected turn after rumors surfaced in 2013 about his drug use. Allegedly, someone was trying to sell video evidence of Ford smoking crack to the media. A belligerent Ford told the press that it was “absolutely not true”, and later called reporters “maggots”. In a prepared statement at City Hall, he insisted that it was all made up. Well, guess what? The video did exist … as did a second. Ford refused to resign, but had basically all his mayoral powers stripped away from him.
#7: Reagan on the Iran-Contra Affair
In the 1980s, officials in the Reagan administration facilitated the sale of arms to Iran, violating an arms embargo, in a weapons-for-hostages scheme. The US government planned to use some of the money to fund the Contras, a right-wing rebel group in Nicaragua known for terrorist attacks on civilian targtets and other human rights abuses. Reagan was a vocal supporter. After the scheme was exposed, Reagan admitted to transferring weapons to Iran, but also insisted that accusations were “utterly false”. Officials destroyed documents, or withheld them from investigators, so we might never know exactly what Reagan knew. But suffice to say, most people agree that he had some culpability in the affair.
#6: Bolsonaro Denies Forest Fires
Nicknamed the “Trump of the Tropics’, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is no stranger to scandals … or to being caught lying. In 2019, Bolsonaro blamed a surge in forest fires in the Amazon on indigeous people and environmental groups. He also claimed that fire does not spread in the Amazon because it is wet, accusing the media of spreading fake news. A wealth of video and satellite evidence showed otherwise. In actual fact, Bolsonaro had reduced protection for rainforest lands to facilitate slash-and-burn clearing. His policies had also emboldened illegal land-grabbers. His false statements reaffirmed his support for agribusiness at the expense of environmentalism.
#5: Bill Clinton Denies Affair
Bill Clinton’s relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky took center stage in his second presidential term. The scandal culminated with a 1998 press conference where the president famously uttered that he “did not have sexual relations with that woman”. However, Lewinsky had DNA proof in the form of a stained dress, and Clinton eventually ate his words, admitting to an "improper physical relationship". The House of Representatives thought it serious enough to impeach Clinton for perjury and obstruction of justice, but he was acquitted of all charges in 1999 and made it through his full term.
#4: Boris Johnson & Partygate
In 2020, much of the world went into lockdown due to the global coronavirus pandemic. The social isolation and economic losses were difficult for many … so you can see why they’d be incensed to learn that their own leaders were violating restrictions. In December 2021, it emerged that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his administration had held several social gatherings in government buildings. On the defensive, Johnson claimed that the gatherings were work-related and that “no rules were broken”. A police investigation contradicted his statements, describing events that included excessive drinking and disrespect towards cleaning and security staff. Talk about hypocritical. Johnson ultimately resigned in disgrace.
#3: George W. Bush on Iraq
The Iraq War lasted from 2003 to 2011 and resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths from violence and disease - most of them civilians. And it all hinged on a lie. The Bush administration claimed that ruthless dictator Saddam Hussein had a “massive stockpile” of biological weapons and other WMDs. The assessments of US intelligence agencies did not support this view. Bush and others also worked hard to link Saddam to Al-Qaeda. In fact, Saddam was hostile towards Islamic extremists, and the feeling was mutual. Colin Powell’s speech to the United Nations, in which he made the case for invasion, has since become infamous. The made-up WMDs were never found, undermining US credibility for years to come.
#2: Nixon Says He Isn’t a Crook
Richard Nixon became synonymous with political corruption as his administration’s coverup of the break-in at DNC Headquarters went south in the early 1970s. Members of his administration ordered the botched robbery to take place at the Watergate Office Building in Washington, D.C in 1972. After evidence pointed to White House involvement, Nixon assured people that he was “not a crook” in a famous speech. In the following years, Nixon maintained his innocence even as his colleagues were called to testify in Senate committee hearings. On a White House tape recording known as the “smoking gun,” the president’s true character came out as it was clear he tried to obstruct the probe. His dishonesty prompted his resignation in 1974.
#1: Trump’s Big Lie
With over 30,000 false or misleading statements during his time in office, former President Donald Trump’s difficulty with the truth has been well documented. After he lost his bid for a second term in the 2020 election, he refused to concede, claiming without evidence that the election had been rigged. The courts threw out his team’s 63 lawsuits after they failed to substantiate any of their conspiratorial claims. Recounts, some by machine and some by hand, confirmed Joe Biden’s win and did not show evidence of widespread fraud. Trump’s falsehoods about a ‘stolen election’ inspired the Capitol Riots on January 6th, 2021; nonetheless, he has continued to maintain the fiction.