During a press conference convened yesterday to address allegations of sexual harassment, Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain declared that he would “absolutely” be willing to take a lie detector test, though he quickly added, “but I’m not going to do that unless I have a good reason to do that.”
Cain’s declaration came in response to the first question asked during the press conference, which was posed by CBS News West Coast correspondent Steve Futterman. It is disconcerting that a “serious” journalist would ask such a frivolous question (lie detector “testing” has no scientific basis), but it is emblematic of the mythical status of the polygraph in American pop culture.
Because the myth of the lie detector is so deeply entrenched in the American psyche, it would have been very difficult for Cain to have rejected the suggestion of a lie detector test and pointed out its unreliability. Instead, Cain went on to add that he had discussed his willingness to take a lie detector with his staff and with his attorney, who evidently failed to dissuade him from such foolishness.
If Cain does submit to a polygraph test, it is likely to be arranged by his lawyer under terms of attorney-client privilege. If Cain doesn’t pass, the public will never hear about it, and his lawyer can have him polygraphed by someone else until he does pass. Then his lawyer can announce to the world that Cain has passed a polygraph denying the sexual harassment allegations against him.
Apart from the fact that only the result of a passed polygraph will be made public, it’s worth noting that while polygraphy is inherently biased against the truthful, liars can pass the “test” using simple countermeasures that polygraph operators have no demonstrated ability to detect. For an in-depth explanation of how to pass a polygraph whether or not one is telling the truth, see AntiPolygraph.org’s free book, The Lie Behind the Lie Detector.
The following is the portion of Herman Cain’s press conference that dealt with the lie detector (transcription by AntiPolygraph.org):
Steve Futterman: Mr. Cain, Steve Futterman with CBS News. I’d like to ask you a two-part question. First of all, do you think it is appropriate for a candidate’s character to come under a microscope in a campaign? And secondly, you are basically now in a he said/she said situation. She’s saying something; you’re saying something. They’re both diametrically opposing each other. As distasteful as it might be, would you be willing to do a lie detector test to prove your honesty in something like this–
Herman Cain: Yes–
Futterman: Sure, go ahead…
Cain: Yes, I absolutely would, but I’m not going to do that unless I have a good reason to do that. I have, look, that was one of the first comments I made in watching this to my staff. I’ve also shared that with my attorney. Of course I would be willing to do a lie detector test. Secondly, I believe that the character and integrity of a candidate running for president should come under a microscope: with facts, not accusations.