Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

Dave Bing shows how elites can get ahead: cheat

The United States is supposedly a class-less society, yet we all find out sooner or later that there are certain people who are above us in many ways, and we’d better learn to accept it.

I learned when I worked for the Postal Service that there were really two sets of rules, one for the people who did the work and another for the people who watched the people who did the work. Managers and supervisors seemed to never receive formal or informal discipline or correction, while workers were usually corrected loudly and in front of many others to increase the humiliation. Sometimes, even if you did something right or well, you caught a reprimand.

Managers would shrug and say, “That’s just the way it is.”

I internalized the idea that life was basically unfair and that if I wanted things to be different, I’d have to set my own course. Some in the Postal Service became perennial whistleblowers, leading to all sorts of trouble for themselves in the pursuit of postal purity. For me, I thought life was too short to spend it in a self-destructive pursuit of purity in an inherently corrupt government operation. In any case, I knew enough to recognize that all the anti-retaliation rules in the world can’t protect you from those who have a job and career to protect.

Of course, the world outside the Postal Service is little different, and I managed to see the ways of the elite while working for newspapers. For them, life was parties, galas, society events, high-paying jobs and leadership of local nonprofits. There was a different set of rules for their behavior, and in their world lying on a resume was no big deal. Even high-level government people could fake their qualifications and usually talk their way out of trouble with a declaration that they had made a mistake, or that it was all a misunderstanding.

Dave Bing, a candidate for mayor of Detroit – or what’s left of it – has been caught in a lie about his education. The Detroit Free Press – or what’s left of it – has been out front on this story.

I suppose if I were Bing, my one question would be how it is that a dying newspaper can devote so much time and attention to his educational qualifications, and why doesn’t it just lay off all its reporters. To me, it’s a sign that even as they’re dying, newspapers will continue to do what they have to in order to keep public officials honest.

According to the Free Press:

Bing has exaggerated his education background for years. In a video aimed at retired pro basketball players in which he says he got the degree in four years, Bing also claims — falsely — to have earned a master’s degree in business administration.

Bing declined requests to speak with the Free Press about his education. Spokesman Cliff Russell attributed the discrepancies to misunderstandings.

As you might expect, Bing is engaging in all sorts of rhetorical ju-jitsu in an effort to divert attention away from his own misconduct. It’s typical for elites who are caught in a resume exaggeration to claim it’s all a “misunderstanding” or a “clerical error.”

As another story notes, Bing is now saying that Syracuse University, the college he claimed to graduate from, shares some of the responsibility. And he apparently thinks the media is just several tads too nosy.

 As the Free Press noted:

 Bing grew angry when the Free Press asked Wednesday whether he would release a copy of his college transcript.

“I think you’re trying to dig into something that isn’t a story,” he said.

You see, in the real world people are held accountable for the lies they tell, but in the elite world, it’s OK to be untruthful so long as you’re a “good person.” And so what if all your life you’ve gotten ahead claiming degrees you didn’t have? Doesn’t the end justify the means?

I try to be very careful about my own qualifications because while I have a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University, I also did a little graduate work in communications. I recall that it was a couple of graduate-level courses. I got A’s in them but decided not to continue because by then I needed a full-time job. But I don’t even claim “some graduate work” on forms because I don’t want to deceive anyone.

Maybe I’m in the minority on that one.

A few years ago, I read that men who exaggerate their accomplishments will do it in regard to sports, military service or academic achievement. The punishment for fakery is pretty severe in all three areas, but since low-level people usually are subjected to more intense scrutiny, it’s hard to get away with it. Being an elite, though, seems to mean you are taken at your word and thus claims of degrees, military honors and sports derring-do can be made and puffed up without anyone questioning them for years.

Here in Florida, there was a minor dust-up over the fact that the head of the state’s Department of Juvenile Justice, Walt McNeil, had claimed a master’s degree from a little-known, unaccredited school in Louisiana. See this story from the St. Petersburg Times.

And in Miami-Dade County in the late 1990s, there was a big mess when it was revealed that top administrators in the school system – including the superintendent — had graduate degrees from diploma mills.

Now I know there are those who say we should look at the whole person, and not just some lines on a piece of paper, but when you’ve worked hard to come by a degree and attended classes and done all the classwork, it’s painful to lose out to someone who wrote a check to some P.O. Box and maybe a three-page paper and walked away with a master’s or doctorate, and a high-paying job.

OK, life is unfair, but it doesn’t have to be. Those who lie on their resumes are stealing from those who are truly qualified, and those who believe they are hiring someone who has education and the transcript to prove it.

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March 13, 2009 - Posted by | Living in the modern age | , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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