The Washington Post continues to spin on behalf of those who leak to its reporters. Today’s front-page headline, of a nature one virtually never sees in that spot, reads “Polygraph Results Often in Question.” The accompanying story argues that scientists are becoming “more certain” that polygraph equipment “is ineffective in accurately detecting when people are lying.” The Post cites a study that purports to show that “if polygraphs were administered to a group of 10,000 people that included 10 spies, nearly 1,600 innocent people would fail the test and two of the spies would pass.” Just how the study reached this conclusion, the Post doesn’t say.
In any case, if the Post is suggesting that polygraphs shouldn’t be used as one tool in trying to get at the truth, which is how the CIA says it uses them, these results don’t strike me as very convincing. Moreover, the Post’s star alleged leaker, Mary McCarthy, is said to have failed more than one polygraph examination. Thus, if the Post is attempting to defend Mary McCarthy (whom it mentions early in the piece), then the relevant issue is the percentage of innocent people who fail more than one such test.
But while the Post’s lead article sheds little light on the issue it tries to take on, critics can take some solace in the fact that the paper’s daily agenda-driven journalism must now at times manifest itself in such a defensive form.