David Manning Trivial Liars of the Month for March 2004


Bottled water has always been something of a scam, but there was usually at least a smidgeon of reality to the pitch that the water had some properties that justified its pretentious name and absurd cost. Coca-Cola’s latest entry into the field, Dasani, was, according to the company, designed to meet the “aspirational” needs of customers. Its name was intended to suggest “relaxation, pureness and replenishment”…you know, kind of like “water.” Now it is revealed that Dasani also suggests brazen false advertising and dishonesty, because the bottles contain plain, old, tap water from that exotic locale, London, England. Well, actually Sidcup in southeast London, but you get the idea.

Coke sniffs that it has added some extra minerals and applied some “high tech” filtering processes. Uh-huh. The bald fact is that the company recognized that the dupes and marks who are willing and able to pay good money for bottled water that tastes exactly like the tap water coming out of their home faucets would pay the same good money for the tap water itself, as long as it was placed in a bottle and given a fancy name. And it was right. But just because people are easy to fool, profitable to fool, and virtually begging to be fooled doesn’t mean it is any less unethical to fool them.

Ethics Scoreboard will wait for Coca-Cola’s apology.

But it won’t hold its breath.

William Coates, “America’s Oldest Man”

When William Coates died recently, virtually every US daily newspaper reported that the 114 year old Marylander had been the oldest man in America. There were some radio bits with relatives and TV items as well. Although he wasn’t around to enjoy it, Mr. Coates was a celebrity.

He was also a fraud. Census records show that he was really 92…not even old enough to be put on a Smuckers jar and lionized by Willard Scott.

This particular deception has gone on since the time of Methuselah, with the American champ probably being Joyce Heth, a slave purchased by P.T. Barnum and exhibited in 1835 as George Washington’s 160 year-old former nurse. She was actually less than 70, but she made P.T. a bundle, and seemed to confer legitimacy on the whole idea of the elderly exaggerating their ages. After all, what’s the harm?

The harm is trivializing fraud, which hurts hundreds of thousands of people every year in America, and costs untold millions of dollars that could be used for productive things. Mr. Coates used fraud to get a little attention, but in doing so he embraced an illegitimate tool. Pretending to be something you are not is wrong in a job interview, on a resume, over the phone, and everywhere else. It is nothing more, or less, than lying.

Mr. Coates was old enough to know better.

View the definition of Trivial Liars and a list of "winners" from previous months.



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