Reading Between the (Head)Lines

A different take on today's top stories

The Lies We Love To Hate

What do the top stories of 2013 have in common? The big lie.

What makes one story so compelling amid the thousands of events that occur each year? Is it the rise and fall from power? The huge, narcissistic egos? Nope, it’s the pathological lying that the perpetrators used to justify their actions.

Here are the best excuses/lies from 2013:

OJ Simpson, the one time football great, had the world by the tail while living the American dream. He was even acquitted of murder. Most of America felt he was guilty and was enraged when he promised to help police find the real killer. To many, justice was served when he was sentenced to 33 years for kidnapping and armed robbery. His excuse: It wasn’t really robbery since the items in question belonged to him at some point in the past. That would have been a good one, except for the guys brandishing guns he brought along.

In September, ‘The Juice’ was intercepted by guards who caught him with a dozen oatmeal cookies he stole from the prison cafeteria. I bet OJ didn't actually steal those cookies and is busy helping prison officials find the real thief.

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Chris Brown's anger management—or lack thereof—is what has kept him in the headlines. Initially arrested for his violent attack on Rihanna, Brown found himself repeatedly back in court and in the news because of his temper. He was kicked out of anger management—for being too angry—and has been court ordered to attend another rehab. His excuse: "I'm human." Aren’t we all?

Jodi Arias brutally murdered Travis Alexander, but claimed she was a domestic violence victim and killed in self-defense. Her excuses are perhaps the best of the year, which explains her notoriety. She claims she did not drive to Mesa, AZ to kill Alexander, but was on her way to Utah when he called and said, “come see me.” So actually it was all his fault. On arrival, she shot him “accidentally” and then "forgot" stabbing him 29 times and slashing his throat—all in self-defense, of course. Plus she didn't buy the gas cans found in her car, despite a Walmart receipt, and didn't steal her grandparents' gun, which was reported stolen AND was the same type gun used in the shooting. Arias also “forgot” putting the knife in the dishwasher.

Her initial story was comprised of repeated denials to police that she was ever present at the crime scene. She kept this up, until shown crime photos, complete with her bloody hand and finger prints. That's when the spectacular lies began about two ninja intruders who broke into Alexander's home, brutally murdering him and almost killing her. Finally, she wove the story that Alexander was a sexual deviant, a possible pedophile and an abuser to justify the killing. Her motto: Deny, deny, deny till the day you die.

George Zimmerman should have quietly faded into the night after he was found not guilty for the death of Trayvon Martin, but we weren't that lucky. After several encounters with law enforcement, Zimmerman found himself once again behind bars, arrested for domestic assault on his girlfriend. He called 911 to tell the world his side of the story and blamed it on…. his girlfriend for, “being crazy." He had previously blamed his wife for “making” him punch her father in the nose. As for now, the girlfriend has dropped charges and wants to reconcile. Zimmerman, for his part, has followed Arias' footsteps and taken up art —he sold his first painting for an amazing $100,000.

Conrad Murray went to prison in 2011 for the involuntary manslaughter of Michael Jackson and was released in October of 2013. He claimed he did not kill the King of Pop, but rather he was just incompetent and did not know how to perform CPR properly. That might have worked out okay Conrad, if you weren’t a cardiologist.

Paula Deen built her empire on butter. She raised more than a few eyebrows when she quietly signed a sweet deal with pharmaceutical giant Novo Nordisk, a global company that sells medication and care equipment for diabetes. This occurred after she was diagnosed with diabetes. Many speculate this was caused by eating her own high fat, unhealthy food.

She kept this a secret for three long years, all the while continuing to slap on the butter, pour in the heavy cream and reach for the deep fryer. When her diabetes came to light, many fans felt betrayed.

She weathered that storm but then an employee, African-American Dora Charles (described by Dean as her "soul sister"), brought her to court for saying the "N" word. Deen shocked many by saying in her Southern drawl, "Why, of course I say the N-word, Sugar. Doesn't everybody?" In December, 2013 she blamed it on her age. Seriously? I think dementia would have been more plausible.

Ariel Castro's outrageous excuses for imprisoning Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus for a decade left both courtroom and television viewers completely dumbfounded. Castro claimed the women wanted to be there and that he did not rape them repeatedly, stating, “they wanted it.” He also maintained they lived in harmony, despite the horrific tales of multiple beatings and chains attached to the wall where they were restrained.

He added that the only time he beat a woman was when they needed to be “shut up.” The worst excuse was that none of the girls were virgins when he took them, so it was no big deal, anyway. His final rant in court, is one of the most intense and insensitive things you will ever hear. Listen if you dare, but you’ve been warned.

Castro pled guilty on July 26 to 937 counts of kidnapping, rape and murder. His sentence was life in prison without parole, plus 1,000 years. Thirty-nine days later he committed suicide in prison.

Blaming others is nothing new, like the all-time classic, “the dog ate my homework.” But with today’s narcissistic culture comes a shirking of responsibility which results in ever more outrageous and blatant lies. There will always be dumb criminals and we will continue to be fascinated by their ridiculous excuses. Ever since the “Twinkie Defense” back in 1979, savvy perpetrators have realized that the big lie works—if not as a defense, then certainly as a means to become famous. What excuses will captivate the public in 2014? We’ll soon find out.

Dale Archer, M.D., is a clinical psychiatrist and author of The New York Times bestseller, Better Than Normal: How What Makes You Different Can Make You Exceptional.

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