A “big lie” is an extreme distortion of the truth, used for the purpose of spreading propaganda. It is often somewhat outrageous.
In theory, people will more easily believe a big lie than a smaller one, because most people assume that there is evidence to support any statement of great magnitude.
The term was coined by Adolph Hitler in his autobiography, Mein Kampf. Hitler wrote that “the great masses of the people… will more easily fall victim to a big lie than to a small one.”
Hitler claimed that if propagandists repeated a big lie often enough, people would come to accept it. Eventually, that big lie would inform people’s thinking on other related issues.
Hitler did not say that he, himself, was spreading a big lie. Rather, he accused European Jews of spreading “falsehoods and calumny” about Germany’s role in World War I. However, Hitler’s propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, is closely associated with the “big lie” technique.
In our own times, pundits love to accuse leaders of peddling “the big lie.” A 2013 column in the Los Angeles Times featured the headline, “Obama’s Big Lie” and charged that then-president Obama had told the American people a huge lie when he promised that nobody would lose their existing healthcare plan when the Affordable Care Act came into effect.
Just a few years later, the media was full of articles about “Donald Trump’s big lie.” A CNN article, looking back on the Trump presidency, summed up the allegations. The piece was aptly title The 5 key elements of Trump’s Big Lie and how it came to be. The piece began by pointing out a major irony: Trump’s opponents believed that he had spread a “big lie,” but Trump’s supporters argued that his successor was the liar.
As CNN noted, “Former President Donald Trump has spent months spreading lies about the 2020 election, which he himself is now calling “THE BIG LIE” as he continues to claim that a massive conspiracy robbed him of a second term.”
CNN concluded that Trump was the true liar, but acknowledged that there are differing views on the subject. As people’s worldviews become more and more divergent, each side’s narratives take on the feel of a big lie.
Not long afterward, the Washington Examiner denounced President Biden for allegedly spreading big lies himself. According to the piece, “Joe Biden’s Big Lie,” the president was willfully lying about how Republican-backed changes to election laws would impact Black voters. The Examiner charged that Biden was exaggerating the laws’ impact as a way to distract the public from other issues. The Examiner also charged that Biden was needlessly dwelling on former president Trump’s own “big lies.”
The piece said:
Early in his speech, Biden denounced “the Big Lie,” a reference to Donald Trump’s claims that he actually won the 2020 election. But Biden’s Jim Crow charge is an even clearer instance of the Big Lie — and a more dangerous one since it’s unlikely to be fact-checked by most media. If you want people to condemn a Big Lie, don’t tell one yourself.