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50 Shades of Horseshit

we're all guilty of much the same, but journalists need to tighten up

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, February 25, 2015.

A year or two before I got my first draft card, it was discovered I was missing part of my back, which explained the leg pain that kept me out of wrestling for a few weeks. A lumbar vertebra was missing whatever held it in place on one side, so it pivoted on whatever actually held it in place on the other and pressured the spinal cord. Back then, I could whine OR get it welded together, but that was such a risky process back then I decided to go with the first option: whining and no contact sports.

As an unintended but happy benefit, my first draft card years later made me 4f, physically unqualified for military service. I had a few good years with a back that gave small trouble, but later parts started going numb in my biological homestead. Sometimes feeling came back and sometimes it didn't, but you get used to everything in time. I harbored zero desire to test myself in physical combat.

In the 1980's, I was with a band touring military bases in Texas and Oklahoma. On at least one occasion I allowed females in the Air Force to think I'd served in hopes of a payoff. Didn't lie but didn't correct them, either. Academic, didn't work.

Brian Williams of NBC News is younger than I by about a decade. He apparently inflated some of his experiences in recent wars to being more dangerous than they were, sometimes by a whole lot. He apologized and stepped down and then was hung out to dry by NBC for six months.

Dan Rather and other newsmen have been guilty of much the same thing in the past. Hilary Clinton said her plane had landed under fire at one point when it had not. Those who simultaneously try to appear more manly and virile than they probably are, like Fox News' Bill O'Reilly, took pleasure in making fun of Williams and implying he and Fox News were the team that didn't lie, unlike the Lamestream Liberal Media. A condescending laugh and he moved on.

But, that's not how it works. Although this sort of fibbing is common in the bars in Veteran halls everywhere, and probably everyone feels the need to exaggerate in a good story that is mostly true, it definitely is a big deal in journalism which becomes history quick enough. The movie American Sniper came out in the midst of all this, about a genuine military hero, and the movie is a huge success. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle was the sniper of the movie and book it was based on, but he'd been killed two years ago by a deranged ex Marine whom just this week was found guilty of Kyle's death.

Kyle lied in the book. He said he'd punched fellow SEAL alumni Jesse Ventura in the face for bad mouthing the SEALS. That never happened, and Ventura won a lawsuit against Kyle's estate. Kyle made up ridiculous, implausible, impossible stories in the book, and Ventura's suit made it easier for others to point them out, since nobody was particularly thrilled about denigrating an actual hero. But there were a lot of fibs in there, it seems. Kyle, who had no need to exaggerate squat for status and glory of the sort young men and military types adore, was also a liar. Americans don't like 50 shades of grey in their heroes, just in gooey porn for inexperienced women and the men who hope to benefit. Christianity pointlessly divides everything into black and white, which makes it easy to condemn but hard to embody.

So, nobody is surprised that it turns out Bill O'Reilly may have fibbed and exaggerated himself. There is argument over his coverage during the Falkland's war, and his claims of having heard a JFK assassination figure kill himself, and a bunch of other stuff through the years. None of it is important beyond the same issues Williams has: hyperbole for effect in story and a slight elevation in esteem from the audience. But actual combat vets - who tend not to mention combat experiences when those, like me, inquire gingerly around the subject - were interviewed and expressed anger and disappointment with Williams, who never looked down the muzzle of a weapon pointed at his helicopter. They have the right. Most of us do not.

I forgive the lesser fabrications that clearly, to me, emerge from trauma and the limited templates our minds and education allow to provide scar tissue. So long as they're pointed out.