I took a page out of your tabloid and opened up today’s New York Post. My favorite quote came from Liz Smith’s column. “All you can do is be honest, and people will respond to it.” Sweet, huh? It goes on: “That’s why people love Marilyn Manson. He’s real. I worship him.” The speaker was Jewel, interviewed in January’s Vogue. And given the stink of mendacity wafting from these pages, I was relieved to find an honest man. I’m not referring just to the hoo-hah about the Prevaricator in Chief. Here’s how the Iraqi military described yesterday’s melee: Iraqi anti-aircraft units shot missiles when “murderers and criminals … violated our national airspace” before they were forced to flee “to their bases of evil and aggression in Turkey.” Closer to my home, New York’s Attorney General Eliot Spitzer denied anything but a craving for mahogany paneling after he joked that he would love to have Governor Pataki’s office. Should we believe him? Or debate the meaning of “office”? In his opinion column, Garry Wills revisited the wild claim of conservative leader James Dobson, whose book Children at Risk reported that the White House distributed a workbook to schools asking children “to draw the world’s largest penis, compare white and black penises, and show their parents making love.” (I’m quoting Wills.) Dobson has never been able to substantiate this claim, despite repeated requests for evidence. And Wills persists in pointing out the credibility gap because the book’s introduction was written by William Bennett. “Bennett goes about denouncing Clinton as a liar,” Wills says, “but he promotes the kind of lies that right-wingers want to hear.”
Maud, is it my imagination, or are we in an age of debunking? Rigoberta Menchu was recently exposed as a liar. Her chronicle of wretchedness was true to the experience of Guatemalan Indians–but not, in its particulars, to her own life. Need we discuss what is meant by “I”? (No ontological debates, please; we’re not French.) Anne Frank still has her reputation, but it’s getting more complicated with the latest flurry of diary entries. The work that made Margaret Mead famous is all wrong.
I’m disturbed that women’s names leap to mind, but thanks to DNA testing there are plenty of examples from the other gender. Alex Kelly, the convicted rapist from Darien, CT, copped a plea after a clinical sample proved that he had committed a second rape. And of course Bill Clinton would be unimpeachable without molecular evidence. Still I think it’s not just that our tools for establishing truth out of a morass of relativism and uncertainty are finer. I sense more zeal in the pursuit of truth, less tolerance for deception. Maybe that’s what Ken Starr thought he was: a human DNA testing kit.
As Starr might have said, something to chew on.