What is it about the truth that causes so many people in the public eye to avoid it?
Former White House aide Scooter Libby is likely to do prison time not because he committed a heinous crime but because he obstructed justice and lied. The case centered on a 2003 leak that blew the cover of CIA operative Valerie Plame.
Plame's husband, Joseph Wilson, had said he did not believe there was proper justification for the United States to invade Iraq. The belief is that the outing of his wife was punishment for his comments and was engineered by the offices of Vice President Dick Cheney and Republican strategist Karl Rove.
So Libby, Cheney's former chief of staff, wound up the fall guy because he shadow-boxed and engaged in perjury to keep the higher-ups out of trouble - although he continues to maintain his innocence and plans to appeal the verdict.
As the good soldier, Libby is now depicted as undeserving of his demeaning fate. If Cheney and Rove were involved and dodged responsibility, they deserve far worse censure. But Libby had a choice, too. He could have been forthright and not lied.
The classic case of lying and then lying more to cover up relatively minor behavior was the Watergate scandal of the 1970s. Had President Nixon simply admitted errors and apologized, he never would have left the nation's highest office in disgrace. The longer the cover-up and stonewalling continued, the greater the public's need for punishment.
We have, too, the issue of former President Bill Clinton and his various escapades involving White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Had Clinton come forth and admitted his indiscretions, instead of manipulating words and disputing what the definition of "is" is, he never would have been impeached. More lying, over and over again. However, charmer that he is and Teflon-coated as he seems to be, the ex-president seems even more popular now than he was as the rakish chief executive. Lies or truth, Clinton is quite the artful dodger.
But history will always reflect the fact he told so many lies.
Then along came Martha Stewart, ever-present domestic goddess. She got involved in some stock market manipulations, lied about her role and spent five months in prison and five months of house arrest. Had she come forth with the truth right off the bat, she would never have had such an embarrassing interruption in her career.
All of these cases were greatly magnified by the subject's choice to try to cover something up. Do they believe they will never be caught? Don't they realize that one lie layered on another only heightens disregard?
The American people do not expect perfection from people in the public eye but they have every right to demand honesty. The public can be quite forgiving when someone admits errors and apologizes. Lying is something drastically different.
Yet history, particularly recent history, is loaded with examples of people in the spotlight who have paid extreme penalties for lying. We would like to think that those who follow will learn from all this, but experience tells us such attempted cover-ups will be with us for some time.