This past week, a Washington Post article detailed how former Vice President Joe Biden has been using a compound anecdote on the campaign trail.
The anecdote appears to combine three different stories into one.
Biden has been telling the story of how, while he was in Konar province of Afghanistan, he presented a Silver Star to a Navy captain who was being honored for scrambling down a ravine to retrieve a colleague who was under fire, but the captain refused the medal because the colleague that he rescued died.
The problem with the story is that its details are actually pulled from different incidents.
In 2011, Biden presented a Bronze Star to Army Staff Sergeant Chad Workman, who, while serving in the Wardak province of Afghanistan, tried to pull a fellow soldier out of a burning vehicle, and Workman did indeed try to refuse the medal because his friend died.
Biden’s campaign trail speech takes this moving story, but gets the peripheral details wrong: Instead of a Bronze Star for an Army Staff Sergeant in the Wardak Province for pulling a colleague out of a burning vehicle, it became a Silver Star for a Navy Captain in the Konar Province for scrambling down a ravine to rescue a colleague.
The controversy around this story has centered on whether this indicate that Biden’s memory is slipping because of his age. This doesn’t strike me as a smoking gun, because I can easily imagine getting such details wrong myself if someone asked me about a meeting with a particular entrepreneur–when you’ve done something so many times, it’s tough, even for someone like me with an unusually good memory, to get everything right.
What does worry me is something that the Washington Post also mentioned, which is the lack of concern for the truth.
In a podcast interview after the Post story, Biden argues that the details he got wrong are irrelevant to the core truth of the story, which actually did happen:
“I was making the point how courageous these people are. How incredible they are, this generation of warriors, these fallen angels we’ve lost. And so, I don’t know what the problem is. I mean, what is it that I said wrong?”
The problem is that A) Biden didn’t bother to check on the details of the story before repeatedly deploying it on the campaign trail, and B) Biden acted as though getting the details wrong wasn’t an issue.
I will say this for Biden; what he did was far from blatant lies, like Hillary Clinton’s recollection of coming under sniper fire, or the endless lies of Donald Trump, who, in the past week or two, claimed wrongly that his wife had met Kim Jong-Un, and lied about having a call with the Chinese about trade negotiations. But we shouldn’t allow Trump’s constant lies to convince us that the truth doesn’t matter.
The truth should always matter, and it shouldn’t be too much to ask that our potential presidents check the details and apologize when they (like all human beings) get something wrong.
Editorial Note: Of the three leading contenders for the Democratic nomination, I still prefer Joe Biden over Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, but personal preferences are outweighed by the need for truth. If you choose to ignore untruth simply because it comes from someone you support, then you only differ by degree from the Trump supporters who ignore the many lies of the President.