Lies are as old as time itself, and everyone is guilty of telling even a little white lie from time to time. There have, however, been some whopper lies in the history of man. Some of the biggest lies have come from politician, some from regular everyday people, but all have one thing in common: their lies are the means to an end of some sort, usually for the benefit of the liar in some way. While there are hundreds, even thousands from which to choose, here are ten of the most inventive lies that have ever been told.
1. A Million Little Pieces by James Frey
Author James Frey’s “A Million Little Pieces” was supposed to be the story of his life and was heralded by Oprah Winfrey, even made part of her famous Book Club. Turns out, the entire story was just that … a story, full of lies and exaggerations. While the book was a fantastic read, “The Smoking Gun” ran a fact-check and found virtually all of the book to be lies. The entire incident culminated with Oprah publicly chastising Frey on the air, mostly to make herself look better for having been duped by his story in the first place.
2. Lies to sell a service, by Best Buy
In 2008, Best Buy was accused of setting up high-definition televisions in their stores to sell their HDTV calibration service, a deceptive marketing practice. One Best Buy in North Carolina set up two HDTVs side-by-side, each one showing ESPN programming. One picture looked much crisper and clearer than the other. Best Buy claimed the clearer one looked so much better because it had been calibrated. However, it was discovered that the real reason one looked better than the other is that one was showing ESPN HD and the other was showing regular ESPN. I’m sure this deceptive practice sold Best Buy’s calibration service time and time again — I can vouch for that as I was one who did purchase their calibration service. Was my purchase based on lies? Hard to tell, but this lie still stands as one of the most imaginative ever.
3. Oral Roberts claiming God had used him to raise the dead
The late televangelist Oral Roberts was full of lies and half-truths. One of the best was his claim that he could raise the dead. While giving a speech at his Oral Roberts University in front of an audience of 6000, Roberts said, with no explanation, “I’ve had to stop a sermon, go back and raise a dead person.” When questioned about it later, he hedged, saying he had raised a baby years ago who appeared to have died during one of his services (from boredom perhaps?) Of course, Roberts compared himself to Jesus, saying there was no way to prove he had or had not raised the dead. Most pentecostal scholars, however, agree that miracles such as this are better left unsaid.
4. Janet Cooke’s Pulitzer Prize winning story about 8 year-old heroin addict
Journalist Janet Cooke, who in 1980 worked for the Washington Post, wrote a story for the newspaper entitled “Jimmy’s World.” It was the profile of an 8 year-old heroin addict named Jimmy. The story won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing in 1981. However, Jimmy did not exist, and the whole story was fabricated. This immense lie helped Cooke to win an award she did not merit. She returned the prize, and later said on the “Phil Donahue Show” that working in such a high pressure environment had impacted her judgment negatively and caused her to make up such an imaginative story. Cooke, of course, resigned from the Washington Post. Don’t tell your kids that lying doesn’t pay, however, because Cooke sold the movie rights for her story for $1.5 million dollars, a movie which has yet to be produced.
5. Jennifer Wilbanks’ claim of having been kidnapped and raped
In 2005, Georgia bride-to-be Jennifer Wilbanks disappeared for three days, while family and the police frantically searched for her, fearing the worst. When she reappeared in New Mexico, she told police she had been kidnapped and sexually assaulted. She even had the detaiils of her captors’ appearances down pat: “a Hispanic male with short black hair and rotten teeth and a heavy set white female with blonde, frosted shoulder length hair.” Under skeptical police questioning, Wilbanks finally confessed that her story was all a big lie. She just wanted to get away for a few days, as she was overwhelmed with wedding plans and pressures. She was charged with giving false information to the police, but received just two years of probation and 120 hours of community service. Her fiance, John Mason, called off the engagement, of course.
6. Samukeliso Sithole’s claim of being female
A 17 year old track and field Zimbabwean athlete with Olympic potential, Samukeliso Sithole had everyone convinced that he was a she. After a female friend undressed in front of him and was subsequently told by the boy’s uncle that the friend she thought was a girl was in actuality a boy, she turned him in. A doctor examined Sithole and discovered that he was, indeed, male. But the lie gets even better: Sithole claimed to have been born with both male and female organs, until his parents turned to a healer who gave him a supplement to get rid of the male organs and make him female. He said because his family could not afford to pay the Chinese healer, Sithole said, the healer caused his male organs to grow back. He claimed if he just paid off the healer, he’d be totally female again. Sithole was not even his real name, it was later discovered. He was sentenced to three and a half years in prison for impersonating a woman and offending his female friend who undressed in front of him.
7. The Microsoft iLoo
In 2003, MSN UK issued a press release about a unique new technology called the iLoo. It was, as the name implies, the world’s first Internet-enabled portable toilet. The lengthy press release even included diagrams and details explanations of how the still-in-production service would work. Reporters bombarded Microsoft representatives with questions, of course. About two weeks after the press release, Microsoft announced the whole thing had been an inventive lie. Then the next day Microsoft issued yet another press release stating that no, the iLoo was not a lie, it was really in development. No one knows if Microsoft thought twice about the idea of the iLoo and decided it was a good one, because it still has not been developed. Microsoft refuses to comment on the future of the iLoo today.
8. Kaycee Nicole Swenson’s cancer and subsequent
Debbie Swenson, a 40 year old woman in Kansas, invented a daughter named Kaycee and started a blog about the fictional Kaycee’s fight against cancer. Using photos of a neighbor, Swenson even posted photos of “Kaycee” on the Internet and instant-messaged and emailed others as if she were Kaycee. “Kaycee” had many online friends, so when she died, of course they were upset and wanted to attend her funeral. That’s when it was discovered that Debbie had made Kaycee up entirely. She defended her actions by saying that Kaycee was a composite of all cancer victims she’d known. The thousands of people who read Kaycee’s online diary and felt that they really knew her felt used. But because Debbie never solicited money through the website (although many did send Kaycee gifts), she was not charged with any crime.
9. Lee Mingwei, the first pregnant man
In 1999, a website emerged documenting the first pregnant man, Lee Mingwei. Documents and other evidence verifying Mingwei’s pregnancy were posted on the site. Of course, there was no pregnant man, but the creator of the website, artist and website creator Virgil Wong, said he received many requests from others wanting to be the second pregnant man. Turns out that Wong has created other medical hoax website, from genochoice.com, a site that allows you to create a genetically healthy child online, to clyven, a transgenic mouse with human intelligence.
10. The Blair Witch Project
“The Blair Witch Project” was a movie released in 1999 that documented the quest of three student filmmakers hunting a witch in the woods of western Maryland. The students were supposed to have disappeared during their quest, never to have been seen again. They made up a legend of Blair Witch and even created a website with a fictitious story about the Blair Witch and the disappearance of the college students. The entire project was a total lie, but gave marketers of movies a new idea to use in marketing them — create a website around them.