Thou Shalt Never, Ever Lie

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George O'Leary led Georgia Tech to five straight bowl games, had a 52-33 record over seven years, was a popular coach and a decent man?yet when it emerged that he had puffed up his resume, Notre Dame saw fit to end his services after only five days. Does inventing a curriculum vitae constitute a breach of trust? Of course it does. Should O'Leary be hired in the future by some university? Of course he should. He was caught lying and it cost him the greatest coaching job in the world. He has been punished enough. Was Notre Dame right in accepting his resignation? Absolutely.

Notre Dame is a great university with a great academic and athletic tradition. It could not be seen condoning a lie. If it did, the place would have reeked of the Clinton White House. The president of the United States is the standard bearer of morality. As is the head of a university, and so on down the line. What I found interesting was the reaction of many people who thought it was much ado about nothing. One Notre Dame student called the university stupid, and said that 20 years later the issue of not having played football does not matter. This particular student is obviously a Clinton fan, or has learned from the Draft Dodger. Depends on the meaning of the word not. A friend of mine agreed: "What's the big deal?"

Well, I'll tell you. Invention, the withholding of information, fabrication of fact, or whatever one chooses to call it, makes the perpetrator more comfortable. It doesn't necessarily hurt the object of the deceit, and that is why so many choose to ignore "white lies." When Larry Lawrence invented that he had been a Merchant Marine sailor in the Murmansk run?almost a suicidal mission?he obviously did not hurt anyone. In fact, to the contrary. He brought attention to the sacrifices of those who had perished in the frozen North Atlantic. So Bill Clinton had him buried in Arlington?Lawrence was a big contributor to the Clinton campaign?and then had to disinter him when it transpired that Larry the Liar was inChicago, and that the closest he ever got to the North Atlantic was watching the movie starring Humphrey Bogart. It also transpired that Lawrence was a ghastly man, a bully, a tax cheat and all-round vulgarian.

See what I mean about people who embellish their pasts? David Begelman, a Hollywood biggie in the 70s, was a compulsive gambler (a good trait) but cheated friends and clients to pay his debts. When he was exposed as a fraud, it emerged that he had also lied about having gone to an Ivy League school, Yale I believe. Begelman eventually had the decency to kill himself. Begelman's invention of an Ivy League education hurt no one. It was just part of the pattern of deception.

Let's face it. Liars leave a lot to be desired. Joseph J. Ellis, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, was suspended for a year without pay from Mount Holyoke College earlier this spring when he was caught lying about having been a combat soldier in Vietnam. Unlike Larry the Liar, Ellis did spend three years in the Army?teaching history at the United States Military Academy at West Point. Which in a way makes it worse. West Point operates under the honor system, and having spent three years among officers and gentlemen who do not lie, Ellis should have known better. The president of Mount Holyoke, Joanne V. Creighton, described Ellis as "one of the most respected scholars, writers and teachers in the nation... [H]e has earned a reputation for great integrity, honesty and honor." Some honesty. Some honor. It is also an insult to those brave men who risk their lives in combat. The head of a university should not call liars honorable men. They are anything but.

Perhaps I'm being too hard on Bill Clinton, but it was he who made lying almost acceptable. Caught with his pants down, both metaphorically and literally, he lied and lied, and the media went along with it. How does that make us different from, say, the Arab press that knows full well who bombed the WTC but continues to insist it was Mossad that did it? After the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia, Clinton had Dick Morris take a poll: "peacemaker" or "toughness"? The poll came out for the latter. So Clinton talked tough and did absolutely nothing about it. Again, see what I mean about liars? It's as if a moral cancer interdicts them from doing the right thing. Lying is the easiest thing in the world to do, and weak, self-obsessed men like Clinton will choose it every time.

I attended the University of Virginia, where belief in the honor system is unquestioned. One does not cheat and does not lie. Every once in a while a notice in the university's newspaper would announce that a student had been expelled for breaking the honor system. No names are published, but word does get around. Perhaps if Larry Lawrence, David Begelman, Bill Clinton, Joe Ellis and countless others?even George O'Leary?had attended the university, as UVA is known, they would have learned their lesson earlier rather than later. Such was the influence of the honor system to yours truly that when a customs officer at Heathrow airport 18 years ago asked me what I had in my back pocket, I answered, "Nothing legal." I did my three months in the pokey, but it felt better than getting caught a la O'Leary. The prosecutor asked the judge not to give me a custodial sentence because I had more or less turned myself in. The judge ruled correctly. The law is the law. And lies are lies. O'Leary should be hired by UVA. He'll learn a thing or two.

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