Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Editorial: Quantum effect of lying

In today's column the unnamed editor reviews his fact-check fail in the case of last month's puff piece on William Few, who apparently made some claims about his military record that were untrue. The editor seems unhappy about this, but generally deflects the paper's responsibility for reinforcing the story back on its subject, while refusing to call his lies anything worse than "unacceptable."

Fictionalized personal war stories are somewhat ickier than fish stories, I'll grant. But as the Supreme Court ruled last week, there's nothing illegal about it. That comes as a relief to anyone who's ever padded a resume.

The editor, on the other hand, sees specific harm in the practice. He says, "Misrepresenting one's military service is much more serious, though. In doing so, a person seeks to elevate his or her own perceived value while diminishing that rightfully belonging to someone who really did the work, faced the dangers and accomplished the missions," (emphasis mine).

This is an Evel Knievel  leap in logic, describing a world that contains a fixed amount of respect for military service that can be stolen, borrowed and presumably bought, sold and donated. In this world a lie on one side of an opaque screen magically makes a non-liar on the other side less believable, a sort of quantum credibility effect.

One man's excessive bragging does not affect the perception of someone else's deeds, editor, that's just ridiculous. This is why it's not illegal. When one tells lies to do harm to another, we call it fraud, and it's prosecutable. Finding out that someone lied to you is a bummer, but you can't sue for a bummer, sorry. 

A little more critical thinking is in order here, and some reflection on our culture's recent penchant for elevating soldiers to demigod status. What's next, prosecuting a guy for overstating his minor-league baseball experience?

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