Lee Trevino, the colorful professional golfer of the 60s and 70s, often said, “The older I get, the better I used to be.” He was not unique among the many former great sportspeople and show people who entertained us with their experiences and humorous anecdotes on talk shows or as keynoters on the meetings and convention circuits. Few in the audience were surprised if their stories were embellished or even outright fabrications. They were trying to entertain or teach a lesson with their story.
Casey Stengle, Hall of Fame baseball manager was a master of the embellishment. He often told reporters, “you can look it up,” when they appeared skeptical. Back in the day, there was little likelihood that the average listener, even a sports reporter would “look it up.” It was not that easy and it really didn’t matter. The recent Brian Williams’ revelations and modern media’s instantaneous ability to communicate and verify may well dampen many conferences, conventions, and interviews into sheer boredom.
My wide-ranging career life presented me with countless opportunities to listen to speeches, presentations, and interviews. Embellishment short of the bald-faced lie was accepted. It’s hard for me to recall an event speaker who did not embellish his or her past experiences. Call me jaded but I expected it.
An early mentor of mine taught me the “grain of salt” caution. He was a scientist and was trying to teach me the healthy skepticism of good science. Take this with “a grain of salt” to me meant: “Mike, you are solely responsible for what you choose to believe.” I saw it as my responsibility to decide what to do with information when I receive it. Maybe, I would feel differently if I had not been raised in New York City. Part of the Big City culture was developing a nose for truth and good sensor for BS.
Will the Williams misfortune change the culture of embellishing? Or is this situation different because Williams is a reporter, news editor, and news anchor? We shall see. If it does change the culture, will politicians have to abide?
What’s your take?