Are the high-profile episodes of exaggerated claims by NBC’s Brian Williams, Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly and the VA Secretary Robert McDonald unique to guys?
Is the tendency to inflate one’s credentials something that is more common to men? Is it a “guy thing”?
My personal theory is that, while it might not be a behavior exclusively practiced by one gender, it is one I have seen more often displayed by men.
Plenty of ink and air time have been dedicated to their transgressions: Williams (claimed to have been on a helicopter that was shot down in Iraq), O’Reilly (numerous disputed claims about what kind of danger and wartime reporting he experienced in various settings, including the Falklands war) and McDonald (who in a conversation in January with a veteran claimed that he had been in the special forces, when in fact, he had not.)
Williams and McDonald issued abject apologies, Williams though only after years of telling his story and being called out by a serviceman who was on the helicopter that was shot down.
Set aside the trouble these incidents have caused and the public relations battles that have ensued.
It just strikes me as so much guy-like behavior.
Each man was looking to see who is the bigger guy on campus or trying to find some slight advantage over others, even if it meant burnishing or unconsciously distorting their records.
There is a big part of me that believes that none of them committed these acts fully knowingly.
That may sound naive, but I think these transgressions spring from a certain part of the male brain:
The same part that is loathe to ask for directions. The same part that does not like to display weakness or lack mastery of a particular topic. Or, God forbid, to acknowledge that someone has achieved more than you or did something to distinguish themselves.
Let’s face it: Most men live lives of quiet humdrum routine that are not going to garner headlines. So war stories (literally, in the case of O’Reilly) are a way to stand out from the rest of the pack, even for just a moment.
I know, for instance, I have been guilty of this.
For years I had made a certain claim to fame because I was confident that was how I recalled it. But when I recently researched it, I found — to my embarrassment and dismay — objective documentation that said otherwise.
I had thought for years that I was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting in 2000. The term “finalist” has a strict definition in the context of the prizes.
In fact, I had made the cut to the top 25 of those entries considered for a Pulitzer or as a finalist. BIG difference!
It was not a claim that I talked much about or one that I relied on to get a job or promotion but it was a construct that I relied on internally to satisfy my own ego.
It underscores just how memory is fallible and malleable.
So while I have read and watched the stories of Williams, O’Reilly and McDonald, I am cautious about being too quick to judge their motives.
It may be objectively that what they said happened, in fact, did not.
But those lapses might just simply prove that they are human.
Or, more specifically, hu-men.
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