Poor Little Me

A black woman seems poised to become the next hero of American pop culture. Hollywood just paid more than a million dollars for the rights to her story. Her life is the latest hot topic for glossy magazines and newspaper columnists. Who is this woman? An Olympic champion? A rising film star? No, ironically enough, her claim to fame is journalistic fraud. Her name is Janet Cooke, and many of you may remember the scandal 15 years ago when Cooke was caught passing off fiction as fact. Back then, Cooke was a Washington Post reporter, and she wrote a story about an eight-year-old heroin addict named Jimmy. Millions of readers were outraged by little Jimmy's plight, and Cooke even won a Pulitzer Prize for her heartrending story. But it turned out that Jimmy never existed. He was a creation of Cooke's imagination. And a little investigation revealed that Cooke had lied in other places as well, like on her resume. When the Post uncovered the fraud, Cooke returned the Pulitzer and resigned. And that's the last we heard of Janet Cooke--that is, until last spring. Tri-Star Pictures has announced that it will turn the story into a film called Janet's World. Once again in the public eye, Cooke defends her lies as the necessary responses to a tragic life. Cooke admits she lied to Post readers, but only because her supervisor was mean to her, and a good story would lead to a promotion. And yes, Cooke lied on her resume--but only because she felt she had to outperform her white colleagues. Even worse, while she was growing up her father was so strict that--well, Cooke just had to lie in order to buy clothes her dad disapproved of and to go to the movies. In short, Cooke is just a victim of psychological trauma. Excuse me a moment, while I wipe away a tear. Amazingly, the same press that once excoriated Cooke is now buying her sob story--even, believe it or not, the Washington Post. Former Post reporter Mike Sager explains that Cooke was a vulnerable woman who never had a clear view of her place in the world. Post columnist Dorothy Gilliam says that Cooke's lies flowed from a self-hatred "spawned" by a racist society. What a stunning turnaround. Why is the press--and Hollywood, too--casting Cooke in an almost heroic role? David Hein, a religion professor at Hood College, says Americans have become uncomfortable with true heroes. In fact, we even resent people who display heroic qualities, Hein says, because they make us feel inferior. The widespread resentment of true heroes means we've lost the ideal of striving for the best. But what we consider "extraordinary," Hein says, "should be guided by the wisdom of faith and ruled by love." You and I have to teach our kids how to recognize true heroes from celebrity counterfeits. Read to your kids the stories of Bible heroes and biographies of great missionaries. Hold up modern heroes like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Mother Teresa. True heroism isn't blaming others for our own failings. It's imitating the life of Christ.  


Chuck Colson


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