Home » Comments about Shep » JEAN SHEPHERD–Fact vs. Fiction–Brian Williams and others

JEAN SHEPHERD–Fact vs. Fiction–Brian Williams and others



Two recent articles have appeared in the New York Times regarding the truth/falsity of our memories. I posted an article on it, “Imagination and Memory” on 1/31/2015. I quote part of it:

…the December 2, 2014 New York Times. The article, by two psychology professors, Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, is titled “Why Our Memory Fails Us.” They begin by describing errors in memory by George W. Bush and Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist director of New York’s Hayden Planetarium, and host of the TV series, “Cosmos.” The writers comment:

“Erroneous witness recollections have become so concerning that the National Academy of Sciences convened an expert panel to review the state of research on the topic….

“When we recall our own memories, we are not extracting a perfect record of our experiences and playing it back verbatim. Most people believe that memory works this way, but it doesn’t. Instead, we are effectively whispering a message from our past to our present, reconstructing it on the fly each time. We get a lot of details right, but when our memories change, we only ‘hear’ the most recent version of the message….

“It is just as misguided to conclude that someone who misremembers must be lying as it is to defend false memory in the face of contradictory evidence.”

The second article, by Tara Parker-Pope appeared on February 10, 2015, a teaser titled “Fact vs. Fiction”on page 1 of the Science section, the article inside titled”False Memory vs. Bald Faced Lie.” (The name “Parker” I’m sure, pure coincidence) That the two articles appeared within just over two months of each other in the Times leads me to believe that there is some special, recent interest in the subject of memory, what it is, and how it relates to “truth.” Of course, one returns to the question of what is memory and what is fiction in Shep’s stories (and in the rest of his radio monologs). We see that what appears as fact is in reality, some indeterminate mix of fact and fiction. I’m reminded of my EYF! in which I quote his friend Bob Brown: “He had the ability to weave things that really couldn’t possible be true–in conversation He was a difficult guy to know where reality stopped and fiction began.”

what is truth

That second article begins:

How reliable is human memory? Most of us believe that our memory is like a video camera, capturing an accurate record that can be reviewed at a later date.

But the truth is our memories can deceive us–and they often do.

Numerous scientific studies show that memories can fade, shift and distort over time. Not only can our real memories become unwittingly altered and embellished, but entirely new false memories can be incorporated into our memory bank, embedded so deeply that we become convinced they are real and actually happened.

The article mentions the recent case of whether Brian Williams, TV news anchor “lied,” and whether, equally, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Mitt Romney “lied,” in the not-too-distant past. The suggestion is that they may have been hornswoggled by their memory-imperfections. The article continues, commenting that our memories are fragments of information to which other related input may recombine: “This process essentially creates a new version of the event that, to the storyteller, feels like the truth.” It’s almost impossible to know where the truth lies in these instances of Williams, Clinton, and Romney. [My emphasis.]

Where does that leave us with Shep? Additional uncertainty. Can we depend on what he said about it? Can we depend on what he wrote about it? Might there be any unambiguous truth? Each of us can tend to believe what part of the enigma seems most likely to be true. I tend to vote for mostly fiction–but. We can believe what we think is reality, but we can’t know. Very annoying, that!





  1. mygingerpig says:

    If one is an assiduous Listener and reader of Shep, one will hear the same story told several times in different venues, sometimes years apart–The Limelight,, one or two radio programs and perhaps in a book or magazine story. Each telling is based on the same event or incident, but such details will differ as the names of people involved, the setting, certain aspects of the background. The Blind Date story is one example. I am sure Gene can cite others. The story is in his repertoire, but the facts change. Does that mean he is making it up?

  2. mygingerpig says:

    Another story that comes to mind is that of the fishing adventure of Clear Lake, wherein our hero out in a small boat in the dark hooks a monster fish. The fish was an alligator gar, the first time I heard the story in the 1958 overnight show, and in several subsequent retelling, it changed. In one version, the boat dock keeper came down to see the fish and shot it with a .22. Other versions had different endings. My guess is nothing like this ever really happened to him on this scale, but he may have had a scary experience as a 10 year old on Clear Lake. Or perhaps heard of someone who did and he expropriated the story. His wonderful story of “something’s in the basement” is likely to be largely fictional, perhaps a combination of several events he heard about or experienced. But I doubt he got shot at or fired his shotgun and wounded a burglar. There is no way to verify it one way or another, but it is a good bet that he painted this great story from some realities and some imagination.

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