Some lies do work
in seeking approval

Feb 22, 2005 5:07 AM

Once upon a time, within living memory, toying with the truth was considered a blemish on a man’s reputation, or a country’s.

Now it’s a parlor game, laughed off, ignored, brushed aside, disregarded.

The modern version of public deceit began when the United States denied having a U-2 spyplane, until Russia shot one down.

It continued with a president who said he had no sexual relations with a staffer, ignoring the fact that she had sexual relations with him, a slightly different cup of tea.

The next president sent the country to war, with countless thousands killed, on the phony pretext that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was a threat to us. Saddam was a bloodthirsty tyrant, but he was a no greater threat to us than the killers of Rwanda, who slew 500,000 or so without a whisper from the White House or its triple play infield of Rumsfeld to Wolfowitz to Perle.

Now comes the incredible deceit of a government planting paid phony agents certified as legitimate accredited newmen to lob prearranged softball setup questions in press conferences and then report the party line to the nation as news.

Falsehood is everywhere, most recently in sports. In baseball, bulked up Jason Giambi dances like Nijinsky around the steroids issue, and the National Football League pours sweet syrup over Reggie Fowler, about to become the first black owner of a major league team despite a fabricated history.

There will be those who brush aside the Fowler fibs about his career as inconsequential. One of them — Lamar Hunt, owner of the Kansas City Chiefs””has done so already, saying of Fowler’s fanciful stories, "I don’t think it would be of any substance at all. I don’t think it would be a negative factor."

Of course not, as long as Reggie has the dough.

Two writers from the St. Paul Pioneer Press wrote a story Saturday that gave Fowler’s version of the inaccuracies in his biography. One wonders why a publicity agent worth her salt would have printed them, knowing surely they could be refuted by anyone picking up a phone to check them, and that some enterprising reporter would do just that.

The bio claimed Reggie played baseball in the Little League World Series at 11 (he did not), football in the NFL (he did not, never making the team) and had a college degree in business and finance (he did not; it was in social studies).

Fowler told the reporters that after reading all these untrue things about himself in the paper (untrue things he had provided), "I sat in a closed room for a lot of hours, not knowing what’s going to happen to my kids, what’s going to happen to my company, what’s going to happen to my family."

He might have given all that a few seconds thought before he gave the falsies to Tunheim Partners, the flacks who blithely reported them as fact.

Nothing will happen to Reggie or his kids. Except a shadow on his credibility.

As Michael Silver pointed out on SI.com, other ex-jocks who made things up weren’t so lucky. Most notable is George O’Leary, whose partly fabricated biography (like Fowler’s) led to his quickly losing the most coveted coaching job in college football — Notre Dame. They don’t forgive that stuff under the Golden Dome in South Bend as easily as they do in Kansas City or Minneapolis or St. Paul.

It won’t matter much in Reggie’s home town of Tucson, either. The locals know where Williamsport and the Little League World Series is, and they don’t confuse it with any local "world championship," as Reggie claims. They know he didn’t play in it, but they’ll forgive him for saying he did, as a local boy who made good. Next thing you know, the village rag, the Star, which loves homers, will report that as a kid Reggie, like our first president, ran home and told his dad, "I cannot tell a lie, father. I chopped down that Sagauro cactus."

In Tucson, that’s the next best thing to a cherry tree.