Dead, Dead Hero

BoingBoing points to the story of a Colorado woman who concocted a fabulous whopper about her husband’s heroism in Iraq: Over a half-year or so, “Amber” made regular calls to a local radio talk show, first talking about how she was in basic training, then disclosing that her husband “Jonathan” had been deployed to Iraq. Finally, Amber announced that her husband had been killed in action. She was left all alone, a military widow with one young child and, she said, another on the way. Tragic.

But the heroic nature of her husband’s death didn’t come out until Amber talked to a group set up to help military families in western Colorado. Jonathan had been killed trying to save the life of a little Iraqi girl. The story was full of other details, too, about the couple’s life and military service and everything. Media throughout the state, including the hometown paper, lapped up the story, which quickly unraveled. No Amber. No Jonathan. No dead hero. No one ever checked before issuing press releases or printing stories.

Wow.

Now, everyone, including Oprah, wants to know why “Amber” pulled the hoax. The consensus: Something is wrong with her. “Sometimes people have such a deep emptiness inside that when they get attention, they’re the recipients of well-wishers, the center of attention, they get a sense of importance and comfort,” one expert is quoted as saying.

Focusing all the attention on “Amber” and her obvious lack of balance (or incredibly well-developed, gutsy ability to pull pranks) leaves out the other side of the equation in this hoax and others: What is it about the rest of us — the emptiness in our own lives? — that we’re so ready to believe stories like this?

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