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Column: What do girl, Te'o, Armstrong have in common?


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Most people want to believe the things others tell us. That goes for journalists, too, who are taught to verify facts before they publish them.

But sometimes we get fooled, and we learned on Thursday that a trusting public was fooled three times.

Fool me once, shame on you.

Fool me twice, shame on me.

Fool me three times, what is this world coming to?

The truth-adverse trio is:

Lance Armstrong, the world’s most famous and most successful professional bicyclist, who finally acknowledged years of lying and cheating to win major racing events during an interview with talk-show host Oprah Winfrey.

Notre Dame star linebacker Manti Te’o, whose girlfriend supposedly died the same day as his grandmother last fall, captivating the sports world in a story about an athlete playing through personal grief. But on Thursday, facts emerged that the girlfriend never existed, making the story a hoax.

A 14-year-old Columbus girl, far from the celebrity status of Armstrong and Te’o, who made up a detail-laden story of an attempted abduction that she fended off on her way to school Thursday morning. But after police reviewed surveillance images, it was clear that the incident never happened — and she then recanted her story, explaining that she was just looking for attention.

Liar, liar, liar.

The local girl’s story was so detailed, you couldn’t blame the school guidance counselor for believing and reporting it — or the police for notifying the media, which in turn quickly got the word out to help alert the public about a potential predator on the local streets.

The would-be-abductor’s description? White male of medium build, possibly in his 40s, with medium-length brown hair that was partially over his ears, and wearing a zippered dark gray jacket. And he had a long grayish goatee, about 2 to 3 inches long, and the mustache was partially over the top lip.

And his vehicle? A newer minivan of medium gray color with no window tint, no visible bumper or window stickers and black door handles. Black paint or material on the passenger front door handle had been scratched or had faded and was showing gray or silver, the description said.

This girl has a vivid imagination, to say the least.

As for Armstrong, the cycling champ responded to Winfrey’s rapid-fire questions during a two-hour broadcast, the first of two. It started with five direct, yes-or-no questions.

Q: Did you take banned substances?

A: Yes.

Q: Was one of those EPO (as the blood-boosting protein hormone erythropoietin was known)?

A: Yes.

Q: Did you do blood doping?

A: Yes.

Q: Did you use testosterone, cortisone and human growth hormone?

A: Yes

Q: Did you take banned substances in all of your Tour de France wins?

A: Yes.

Q: Are you a dirty-dealing, big, fat liar?

Well, Oprah didn’t ask that question in those exact words. Had she done so, however, the answer would have been yes.

And Te’o? He may not have started the hoax, but he certainly didn’t do anything for months to dispel it. The lie is still unraveling.

Professional cycling now has extensive tests to wring out the cheaters. And police have used lie-detector tests for decades. But how do we identify the “storytellers” of everyday life?

I say inject everyone with the Pinocchio truth serum. You know, the one that makes your nose grow longer every time you tell a lie.

The only problem there is we will have so many people running around with long, pointed noses that someone is going to get an eye poked out.

Or instead, just maybe we could get people of the world to all vow to go about their business in truthful, honest, ethical ways.

Now there’s a story I would like to print.

Tom Jekel is editor of The Republic. His column appears each Sunday. You may reach him by phone at 379-5665 or by email at tjekel@therepublic.com

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