Wednesday, March 26, 2008

he's short, he's fat, he's got a spotty back, Jeffrey Archer

Here's the internet as a force for good again. Yes, I know, there's still an awful lot of naked women doing all manner of eye-watering things with root vegetables, but still. Actually, I say "awful" - in fact some of it's fantastic. But anyway.

Time was if you wanted to construct a completely fictitious past for yourself, you could probably get away with it if you were brass-necked and brazen enough about it all, just because of the sheer time and effort involved in anyone checking up on you. Fat insane fraudster and loony religion-inventor L. Ron Hubbard is a good example. Jeffrey Archer is a more recent one - it was only when he started getting involved in juicy liaisons with prostitutes that people (Michael Crick, most persistently) started checking up on all the other stuff like whether he'd actually been to Oxford University and various other stuff.

Trouble is, in this age of mass media and the internet, anyone can check up on pretty much anything, relatively easily. So if you're inclined to make something up, especially if you're in the public eye, think carefully. Advice that Heather Mills would have been well advised to heed before concocting various bullshit stories about being kidnapped as a child and being recommended for a peerage by a mysterious "Lord MacDonald", not to mention omitting to mention her former career as a nude model in, hem hem, "educational" videos. Did she really think nobody would check? The brief but highly entertaining hatchet-job McCartney v McCartney: The Ex Files on ITV1 the other night told the full sorry tale. I have to confess to a certain amount of sympathy for Heather Mills - in a divorce dispute with everyone's favourite cuddly mop-top multimillionaire professional Scouser there was no mystery as to whose side the public would be on - but she does seem to have lost her marbles a bit lately.

Hillary Clinton finds herself in a similar position at the moment - I have no idea what posessed her to go off on a tangent about dodging sniper bullets on a trip to Bosnia in 1996, but she surely can't have imagined that no-one would dig up some film, or at the very least some contemporary newspaper articles, to show that she'd made the whole thing up. I suspect Bill taught her everything she knows.

As I always say, honesty really is the best policy. Not particularly for moral reasons (though obviously there is that aspect too) but just for purely lazy and utilitarian reasons. If you lie you instantly have to maintain two versions of reality in your head, and remember which one you've fed to which people. Not only that but someone, somewhere, will check up on you. Obviously if you can avoid committing share fraud, having numerous affairs, consorting with prostitutes and persuading people to lie about it for you in court, that helps as well. To recycle an old Archer joke: I saw Jeffrey Archer lying in the street yesterday. Well, he was in the street, I just assume he was lying. Boom boom.

One corollary of all this is that it would be almost impossible for someone like Frank Abagnale (subject of Steven Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can, also on TV a few nights ago) to get away with what he did even once, let alone repeatedly for five years. Which isn't to say there are no longer opportunities for fraud, just that your fraudster is more likely to be sitting in his bedroom fiddling with a computer than jetting around the world on Pan Am getting serviced by stewardesses.

Just so I'm not accused of being less than even-handed in my treatment of the Democratic presidential candidates, here's the Hitch getting a good head of steam up about Barack Obama's nutty religious mentor.

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