Make Truth Matter Again

There has been a significant update in a story from this week’s issue (12 August 2018). Let’s start with my original story:

Diploma Duplicitousness

Howard (and her mom) with her fake diploma — click to see larger.

Melissa Howard is running in the Republican primary for a seat in Florida’s House of Representatives for the Sarasota area, pledging to “do my best to support our President and his policies to ‘Make America Great Again’.” A conservative political news web site questioned Howard’s claimed education: she says she’s a graduate of Miami University in Ohio, but FLA News Online couldn’t find record of her graduating and called her out. Howard called the accusation a “lie,” and her spokesman slammed it as “fake news.” Howard later issued a photo of herself and her mother holding her framed diploma. The web site apologized, but took it back after a university spokesman pointed out multiple problems with the pictured diploma. It shows a bachelor of science degree in marketing; the school has never offered such a degree. It’s also signed by someone other than the dean of the business school, and is dated 1996; on her campaign bio, Howard said she graduated in 1994. Some prominent Florida Republicans are demanding Howard drop out of the race, but the Republican Party of Sarasota refuses to condemn her actions, adding they would support whatever nominee won the primary. (RC/WPLG Miami, Sarasota Herald-Tribune) Make Truth Matter Again.

On Monday (13 August), Howard came out fighting. “It was not my intent to deceive or mislead anyone,” she claimed, but “I made a mistake in saying that I completed my degree. What I did was wrong and set a bad example for someone seeking public service.” Despite that, she vowed “I am staying in the race and intend to win and lead by example from now on.”

She didn’t happen to say who forged the diploma, perhaps because it may be a crime. Florida law says that “Any person, with intent to defraud, misrepresents his or her association with, or academic standing or progress at, any post-secondary educational institution by falsely making, altering, simulating, or forging” a degree is guilty of a first degree misdemeanor.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and the 12th Judicial Circuit State Attorney, has been formally requested to investigate Howard for the crime — by Former Manatee County GOP Chairwoman Donna Hayes.

Why does Hayes care? “She broke the law,” Hayes  said. “There are consequences in life, and if she hasn’t realized that at age 46 this is probably a wonderful learning experience and hopefully this should help Melissa through life as time goes on.”

Voters didn’t stand for it either. By the next day (14 August), Howard admitted “I made a terrible error in judgement” and resigned her candidacy. “We’re glad she’s out of the race,” proclaimed Sarasota GOP Chairman Joe Gruters. “I think she did the right thing for the community.”

Truth Does Matter

It may not seem like it these days, but it does. Not to every politician, obviously, but even in Florida GOP circles, it still does. Far from being “the enemy of the people,” the news media championed the truth. The story wasn’t the “fake news” that Howard’s spokesman Anthony Pedicini claimed. And it was not just a white lie: it was criminal fraud that could, and probably should, land Howard in jail. And for what? Voters are much more respectful of actual success — and Howard is (or at least was) a successful entrepreneur — than they care about college degrees. She didn’t need to lie, let alone go to great lengths to support her fakery, taking it from falsehood to misdemeanor.

Or, as the local newspaper, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, commented in an editorial, “Howard proved that some people will lie even when the truth would serve them better.” And as we’ve seen before, “In politics, the coverup is often worse than the crime.”

Kudos to at least some of Florida’s leading Republicans to demand accountability — and truth. It matters, and it’s the news media’s job to call out lies when they see them. That’s why the Constitution’s First Amendment named them specifically: Freedom of the Press is a basic premise of American democracy, and attacks on the press as some sort of “enemy of the people” is an attack on American democracy.

22 thoughts on “Make Truth Matter Again

  1. I’m not in that legislative district, but my guess is Howard went to such lengths to keep the lie going is because she started that lie long ago: by telling her parents that their investment in her education paid off with a diploma. That’s why her mother is in the photo: whether it was Howard’s idea to rope her mother in or the mother’s, the end lesson is the same: if she’d make such a bald-faced lie to her mother’s face, then any lie whatever would be acceptable to faceless voters.

    Florida, which TRUE proved long ago is the weirdest in the nation, has done itself proud to, as you put it, “Make Truth Matter Again” — and I’m proud of us!

    As well you should be. -rc

  2. In political matters, politicians lie, candidates lie and news media lie.

    Actually, this is a lie too…SOME politicians, SOME candidates and SOME news media lie.

    These SOME people are the enemies of the people and the scourge of democracy….

    Well, almost.

    SOME lies are perfectly justifiable, as evidenced eg by the comedic nature of movies where the main character is unable to lie. Machiavellian and friends called them raîson d’êtat, the National Interest that makes some truth better not shared.

    When the lies are egregious enough and totally unjustifiable though, the members of the press, or the candidates, or the politicians who convey those lies as truths or even innuendos shouldn’t whine about freedom and democracy. I’m referring especially to the flood of reporting based on anonymous sources, all too often an euphemism for “we’ve made it up”.

    The bottom line is, some percentage of people lie. When it comes to the public trust, we shouldn’t stand for it, even for “inconsequential” things. -rc

    • She didn’t do her “homework” which is probably why she had to lie about her college degree in the first place. Stupid is as stupid does.

  3. I heard the NPR interview with the Republican official who thinks criminal charges should be preferred here. I’m not at all certain that lying about a college degree to get elected to something is a criminal offense, myself. I think the GOP’s just grandstanding a little bit on this one.

    I do quote the relevant law — indeed Florida has made it a first degree misdemeanor, which are punishable by up to one year in jail and a $1000 fine. -rc

    • Oh. We really did make that a criminal offense? Nice!

      The only way the law could be better is to make it a felony for politicians. 😉 -rc

    • Making a fake diploma to keep your parents happy is one thing. Using it to defraud the voters is another thing entirely. It’s like making a fake $100 bill and sealing it in resin to use as a paperweight. It’s still illegal but essentially harmless. Using that same bill to make a purchase is fraud. The punishment should be more severe in the latter case for both crimes.

  4. Not all, but some of these local Republicans have more guts than the federal ones. Wow. And stick around for the larger point at the end. The media isn’t perfect, but the vast majority of it is not our enemy, either.

  5. I’m having a hard time believing she’s 46 years old. She looks closer to 30 to me.

    *shrug* I don’t care much about how they look — it’s concentrating on irrelevancies over substance, which is part of the problem in general. -rc

    • I’m not very concerned about age, either. I’d even consider voting for the 14-year-old who’s running for governor if I lived in Vermont.

      I was thinking more about the math. Let’s say she’s really 35 years old and claims to be 46 because of the added experience being implied. That means she was born in 1982/83. Yet she’s holding a certificate claiming she graduated with a bachelor degree in 1996. That would put her at 13/14 years old when she got her so-called 4-year bachelor degree. Not impossible, but fairly improbable. The lady next to her could really be her grandmother, aunt, a family friend, etc. and would therefore just be a red herring.

      I guess I was wondering if she’s lying about her age, in addition to education.

      Anything is possible, but I do the math differently. If you assume she was 21 when she originally said she graduated (1994), that would make her birth around 1973, which would make her around 44 today. If you add in a couple of years due to her being a slacker (not really a dig: lots of college kids are), then 46 isn’t a stretch at all. I do figure it’s her mom in the photo, since lots of people (especially supporters) would have met her, so it’s way too easy to see the falsehood. The diploma was much harder to call out …until the university itself said it was fake, and pointed out how it was easy for them to tell. -rc

  6. Reminds me of an old joke:

    How can you tell when a politician is lying?

    His/her lips are moving.

    It’s definitely a good joke, but takes away from the point: we need to demand better. -rc

  7. Kudos to the media for calling her out on this. But, I wonder, had she been a Democrat rather than Republican, would they have even covered this, and instead hushed it up and hope no one else brought it out into the spotlight.

    I am very confident that they would have called out a Democrat, Libertarian, “Green”, or other party candidate on such a lie. -rc

  8. Wait, when the story first broke, the Sarasota GOP refused to condemn her actions, and said they would support whomever won the primary. But then two days later, the Sarasota GOP chairman said he’s glad she’s out of the race?

    The Sarasota GOP doesn’t seem to have a consistent message around thruthfulness.

  9. “…has been formally requested to investigate Howard for the crime — by Former Manatee County GOP Chairwoman Donna Hayes. Why did Hayes care, considering Howard dropped out?”

    Also — probably — because Howard cost the GOP time, money and votes.

  10. I graduated from Rice University in Houston, TX, in 1972, and that year, Rice handed out five diplomas granting the degree of ‘Master of Mechananical Engineering.’ The university begged to get the diplomas back to correct the error, but at least one guy refused, smug in the knowledge of being only one of a handful of people ever to hold that degree.

    What a mananiac! Love it. -rc

  11. Prosecuting the fake diploma here doesn’t sound like a good use of the prosecutor’s time. First hurdle is that “with intent to defraud” part. The statute was probably intended for, e.g., someone pretending to be an expert and obtaining work via a fake diploma. A politician lying when running for office — who is being defrauded (remembering that’s a legal term)?

    And if you get past that hurdle, it needs to be some way that doesn’t then run afoul of the 1st Amendment, e.g., United States v. Alvarez. (If it’s protected for a politician to falsely claim to have won the Congressional Medal of Honor, why is falsely claiming a diploma not?)

    Political speech is, I think for very good reason, considered strongly protected. This is a fairly clear-cut case: everyone agrees it’s a lie. That, though, also means it doesn’t really do any harm — Ms. Howard’s lie served to fatally injure her own campaign. A falsehood does damage where it’s believed — but that’s where it isn’t clear-cut.

    I actually did think of the Stolen Valor Act as I included that bit about the Florida law, and realized it was probably a long shot for successful prosecution. I decided not to go on that tangent, so I appreciate your succinct arguing of the case. For other readers, a good summary of United States v. Alvarez is on Wikipedia. -rc

  12. Intent is extremely important. Just as how aware of outcomes is the actor in this or any drama. Funny about politics — we get the best!

  13. We came very close to impeaching a President (Nixon) for lying about knowing about the Watergate break-in, and for knowing and directing the cover-up of that. If we, as a people are (were?) willing to do that, to possibly change, drastically, the way in which our form of democracy was moving, why then would anyone think it not possible to charge, try and possibly convict, this dunderhead? Or was she attempting to follow the edict of Dr. Goebbles?

  14. Why did she lie repeatedly? Why did she claim the press reports were “fake news”? Why did she keep changing her story? Why did she insist she wasn’t going to drop out? Why did the Republicans continue to support her?

    Probably because it’s not only been done before, the candidate was successful at pulling off the con. The only difference is that that candidate has absolutely no sense of conscience, remorse, or empathy, and has over sixty years of practice.

    Her mistake was in thinking she could dress up in a grownup’s clothes and look like a grownup.

  15. The court ruled that claiming military awards is protected speech.

    After the Stolen Valor Act was struck down, Congress passed a new law making it a crime to profit financially by lying about military service. President Barack Obama signed it in 2013.

  16. What gets me is her statement, “It was not my intent to deceive or mislead anyone”. Um, actually, that was 100% her intent.

    Heh! This and the next comment….

  17. “It was not my intent to deceive or mislead anyone.”

    Is there another purpose for a lie I don’t know about?

    …came in so close together, they didn’t see each other and I’m approving both at the same time. 🙂 -rc

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