You probably already know the story of Ryan Lochte by now.
He’s the Olympic swimmer who went out partying with some teammates in Rio and allegedly tore up a restroom after which he said he was forced at gunpoint by a Brazilian Paul Blart to pay for the vandalism. Lochte’s initial version was a much less boring tale of being run off the road, held at gunpoint and robbed by several armed men.
Lochte is now a disgraced Olympic swimmer, his endorsements floating away like trash in a Rio bay. He’s being punished for lying and being a fool. I get it. People don’t like liars, especially ones who smugly dye their hair silver.
But aren’t we just a tad over the top with the backlash?
I mean, he’s just a swimmer. It isn’t like we actually hang on his every word or admire him for unyielding honesty. But for several days, this story was reported, updated, analyzed and the verdict was clear: Lochte has to be shunned for his fibs.
Meanwhile, people in a different position can lie and it has very little impact on their reputation. Mainly politicians. Abraham Lincoln wouldn’t have had “Honest Abe” as a nickname unless chronic fibbing wasn’t the main trait for which politicians had come to be known.
Hillary Clinton can lie about the depth of her personal emails, and she’ll bump up nine points in the latest poll. Bill Clinton could stand up and say “I didn’t have sexual relations with that woman” or the more comical “I didn’t inhale” and people guffaw and continue to throw money at them. For what other reason would Donald Trump end every other sentence with “believe me” if he doesn’t assume most people think politicians can’t be believed?
What makes a swimmer’s seemingly innocuous lie much more toxic than those of people who actually control power and have influence? Why will Ryan Lochte forever have the stigma of being the lying schmuck in Rio while we now joke about those lovable, lying candidates for public office?
Thing is, I can completely relate to the Lochte situation.
Many people have gotten drunk and done something stupid and then embellished the real story. Should we be put on a raft and lit aflame as we drift towards the Arctic Circle like dead Vikings? I have a more difficult time understanding lies from people who took oaths to tell the truth and who can influence policy.
But I am increasingly out of step with society’s logic these days. Maybe that’s called getting old, or maybe it is called the dumbing down of America. Your call.
Scott Cost: firstname.lastname@example.org