The Four Hot Spots For Tall Tales

In my Inside Edge PR post on Monday, I touched on the perils of fibbing or embellishing–OK, let’s call it like it is, lying–in the stories that we tell.

In this case, an ex-baseball player is trying to stretch a single (a few low-level minor-league baseball seasons) into a home run (Major Leagues) in his marketing materials as a financial adviser.

In my two decades as a journalist, I found some areas of people’s lives were especially fertile ground for the creation of tall tales. Here are four categories:

1. Military service and/or decorations, such as these stories about a would-be Vietnam War hero, including my piece for the Chicago Tribune. The saga played out two years ago this week.

2. Academic background and credentials. See George O’Leary, the short-lived Notre Dame football coach as the poster child of this phenomenon. O’Leary also padded his athletic resume.

3. Athletic accomplishments. (See Monday’s post and the story below.)

4. Business history/successes. (A year ago, while reporting for a national trade magazine for its “30 Under 30” feature, I detected one highly questionable candidate and steered the publication away from him.)

Because of my passion for playing and covering sports over the years, inflated accounts of sports careers are especially intriguing to me.

There was the time in 1998 when a Cook County Board candidate, Mike Olszewski, claimed to have played for the Pittsburgh Penguins. When I confronted him with my research turning up no such thing, he backpedaled like “Get Smart” secret-agent Maxwell Smart:

Would you believe I played minor-league hockey in Decatur?”

When I tried confirming even that modest claim, the evidence was less than compelling. I dubbed the episode “Penguingate.” Olszewski lost in his bid for public office.

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