In this column, Mark Steyn lists at least four events in Barack Obama's Dreams from my Father that are apparently flat-out lies. Steyn got his info from David Maraniss's new book. The lies are:
1. "His Kenyan grandfather was not brutally tortured or even non-brutally detained by his British colonial masters."
2. "The best friend at school portrayed in Obama’s autobiography as 'a symbol of young blackness' was, in fact, half Japanese, and not a close friend."
3. "The white girlfriend he took to an off-Broadway play that prompted an angry post-show exchange about race never saw the play, dated Obama in an entirely different time zone, and had no such world-historically significant conversation with him."
4. "His Indonesian step-grandfather supposedly killed by Dutch soldiers during his people’s valiant struggle against colonialism met his actual demise when he 'fell off a chair at his home while trying to hang drapes.'"
Maraniss, Steyn reminds us, "is no right-winger, and can’t understand why boorish non-literary types have seized on his book as evidence that the president of the United States is a Grade A phony. 'It is a legitimate question about where the line is in memoir,' he told Soledad O’Brien on CNN."
Uh, no it isn't. The line is clear and bright: don't lie. When I write a personal recollection, I try to tell the truth. It is possible to misremember certain things like the time of day or year and maybe you can't remember precisely all the words someone uttered during a conversation, but you know you're close enough to use quotes. (Even this can be doubtful.) Your interpretation of events might vary from another's who is part of the narrative, but you don't tell me he was black when in fact he was Japanese, and you don't tell me that the conversation took place when in fact it didn't. These are big things that you don't forget. If someone convinces you that you are incorrect about one of the lesser things, you still go back and do the right thing: fix it.
Maybe this doesn't matter anymore. I don't watch or read enough MSM to know if it's been adequately reported. I would tend to doubt it. Maybe the defense about lying in your memoirs is akin to the one for lying about sex: the fact that I lied about the facts in my factual book (or had sex or something resembling it with a woman not my wife) has no bearing upon my qualifications for office. Besides, "I did not have sexual relations with that woman," and neither did I tell lies in my book. It all depends on what the meaning of the word 'is', is, and we can't know what it means to "lie" in a memoir until we know where the line is drawn.
Maybe it's not important. The liar hired a plagiarist for Vice-President. Nothing seems to hurt these guys' upward mobility. Crime pays.