Are biographical embellishments as certain as death and taxes?

Gov. Jan Brewer (R-Ariz.) recently said, “Knowing that my father died fighting the Nazi regime in Germany, that I lost him when I was 11 because of that … and then to have them call me Hitler’s daughter. It hurts. It’s ugliness beyond anything I’ve ever experienced.”


Her father died in 1955 in California of lung disease.


Democratic Senate nominee Richard Blumenthal chronically misstated that he served in Vietnam.


“We have learned something important since the days that I served in Vietnam,” he said two years ago as Connecticut’s attorney general.


“I served during the Vietnam era,” Blumenthal stated. “I remember the taunts, the insults, sometimes even physical abuse.”


“When we returned, we saw nothing like this,” said Blumenthal at a 2003 event where families were supporting overseas troops. “Let us do better by this generation of men and women.”


Blumenthal had five deferments during the Vietnam War, according to the New York Times. He apparently never bothered to correct the many newspaper stories that misrepresented his biography of service in Vietnam.


Illinois Republican Senate nominee Mark Kirk wrongly claimed that he received the U.S. Navy’s Intelligence Officer of the Year award in the late 1990s.


“I was the Navy’s Intelligence Officer of the Year,” said Kirk in 2002.


He never won such an award.


When challenged about his embellishment of the naval intelligence award, Kirk wrote “upon a recent review of my records, I found that an award listed in my official biography was misidentified.”


He also claimed that he was a member of Operation Desert Storm, when he was not. He said his plane came under fire in Iraq, when no record supports his claim.


The Chicago Tribune examined the Who’s Who profiles of 54 people who claimed they had received prestigious military medals. Upon contact, 15 said they lied.


Adam Wheeler faked his way into Harvard University with a bogus resume and pulled off his scam until his senior year.


Johnny Hunt, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, claimed the title “Dr.” when his doctorate came from diploma mills.


Resume embellishment is widespread, chronic and as old as the Bible itself.


When David returned from slaughtering the Philistines, women came singing, dancing and trumpeting the warrior’s triumph – all within earshot of King Saul. They chanted, “Saul hath slain his thousands and David his ten thousands” (1 Samuel 18:7).


Of course, such exaggerations troubled Saul: “And Saul was very wroth, and the saying displeased him; and he said, They have ascribed unto David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed but thousands; and what can he have more but the kingdom?”


Since women were not recorded in this biblical account as being on the battlefield, one wonders how they knew the body count. Did they get the death toll from David’s advance team? Were they part of David’s public relations effort to establish his credentials in order to validate his credibility as a future king? Were the women more interested in challenging Saul’s political power than validating David?


We don’t know the answer to these questions. Nor do we know the accuracy of the body count. Literalists will read the text literally. Others will see the numbers as illustrative of a way to measure success.


Nonetheless, herein is a clue to why resume embellishment is so widely practiced. Enhanced resumes – especially for politicians, preachers and business executives – elevate status and intimidate opponents.


Constituents, congregants and customers would do well to remember the advice “Buyer Beware.”


Robert Parham is executive editor of and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.

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