Suffering from a bad case of Brian Williams Syndrome, Sajjan, Canada’s defence minister is now a card-carrying member of the Public Liar’s Club.
You remember Williams. He was the NBC news anchor who claimed that he had been in a helicopter in 2003 that was downed by an enemy rocket propelled grenade during the Iraq War. In fact, he was not in the helicopter that was hit. Indeed, the aircraft he was aboard never came under any enemy fire.
When real veterans of the battle called him out, Williams admitted his lie and promptly lost his job as the most watched — and best-paid — anchorman on U.S. television. He was suspended without pay for six months, and was never allowed to return to the main network, being relegated to late evening on MSNBC instead.
The network called his lying “inexcusable.” Bingo. Fake news from a newsman is a special curse all its own — just like fake war stories from a soldier and cabinet minister.
Sajjan told his whopper in a speech to the Observer Research Foundation in his native India. He claimed that while fighting in southern Afghanistan, he was the “architect” of Operation Medusa, Canada’s biggest military engagement since the Korean War. Medusa had many architects, but none of them was then-Major Sajjan. Canada’s defence minister was blowing a cloud of delusional smoke, or perhaps something far worse.
Though Sajjan has received a special commendation for his understanding of counter-insurgency tactics, and was by all accounts a valiant soldier, the credit he claimed for himself actually belonged to Maj. General David Fraser and his staff, which commanded NATO forces in southern Afghanistan at the time of the battle.
It is the second time that this federal cabinet minister has been accused of lying. If we are to believe Conservative defence critic James Bezan, Sajjan also misled Canadians about the allied reaction to Canada withdrawing Canada’s CF-18s from Iraq. (There are also investigations underway to see whether allegations are true that he also made the Medusa claims during the 2015 election.)
The minister has now “apologized” twice for his latest “lie”. Beware the dubious second and third apologies for the same offence. The more you listen to Sajjan, the more he sounds like the PR man for United Airlines.
In an exercise of minimal corporate remorse, United apologized for dragging a paying passenger off one of its flights as though he were a terrorist stowaway. The airline kept apologizing until it believed it had achieved a marketable level of contrition that would fly with the travelling public. Sajjan has now taken two shots at his apology. Neither passes the United Airlines test.
Last Friday, Sajjan talked about his “regret” over his fictitious war story. It was not nearly enough, especially after the videotape of his speech in India began to make the rounds. Although he was given the chance to clarify what he meant by claiming to be the “architect” of Medusa, the minister’s office continued to stonewall reporters about why he chose that particular word to describe his role.
Does that sound like “regret” to you?
Maybe the minister thought a videotape of his Indian speech would never emerge, just as executives at United Airlines may foolishly assumed that no one would take a cellphone video of their hideous passenger “re-accommodation.” Once Sajjan realized that his whopper wasn’t going away, he made a second apology. He chose Facebook for his mea culpa, just as PMO staffers Gerald Butts and Katie Telford did in the moving expenses controversy. The difference is that Butts and Telford appeared to mean it, getting it right the first time.
Some reported Sajjan’s second effort as a “full-blown” apology because the minister said he was sorry to his fellow comrades-in-arms. But the fact is, it was resoundingly half-assed. Telling a nose-stretcher to make up for a whopper is a dog that won’t hunt.
Sajjan now wants to retract his statement about being the “architect” of Medusa, and pat all his brave comrades on the back. But he also wants to claim that his Napoleonic fiction was a “mistake.”
If it was a “mistake”, then why not correct it when the minister’s phone started ringing with calls from journalists? Remember, Sajjan made his false claim not in a Trumpian flight of confabulation, but in a prepared speech. A speech by a minister would have gone through several levels of scrutiny, including the drafting, editing and approval of the final product. If it was a mistake by an overzealous underling, why was it left in? And when did the minister realize it was a mistake? I would submit around the time other soldiers started calling him a “bald-faced liar”, just as Iraq war veterans called out Brian Williams.
Finally, Sajjan’s second stab at conveying remorse came devoid of any explanation of why he chose to so grossly exaggerate his role in Operation Medusa. In the case of Brian Williams, the anchor attributed his remarkable betrayal of public trust to a single thing: ego. Williams wanted to be seen as bigger, braver, and bolder than anyone reading a Teleprompter — a kind of Hemingway of the airwaves.
We don’t know the name of the bus that Sajjan rode to Fantasyland. He needs to explain what drove him to make and repeat an absurd claim about a major offensive in which 12 Canadians died. It can’t just be put down to “misremembering.”
Was Sajjan trying to impress his Indian audience with the great importance he had achieved in Canada? Did he simply give in to big-headedness as the man in charge of the Canadian military? Was it no longer enough for his ego to be portrayed as “bad ass.” Did he also long to be lauded for his strategic brilliance, this former major who now gives marching orders to generals?
The question of what happens next sits squarely in the lap of the Prime Minister. He should remember that in the long run, liars don’t generally prosper in either politics or the media. President Bill Clinton was impeached for lying under oath about his affair with Monica Lewinsky. Former Trump national security advisor Michael Flynn was fired for lying to Vice President Mike Pence. TV news star Dan Rather was fired for airing a false report about President George W. Bush. Even Brian Williams got a six-month suspension without pay for making up war stories.
Lt. Col. Shane Schreiber (ret.), one of the authentic planners of Operation Medusa, told journalist Matthew Fisher, “Harj the soldier probably would not have said that. Harj the politician did, thinking he could get away with it. When you are careless with words as a politician that can haunt you.”
Sajjan failed not just his comrades in Afghanistan with his trumped up self-praise, but all of Canada. Canadians would rather chow down on apple flavoured horse treats that be force fed such political mendacity at a time when the U.S. president told 213 lies in his first 100 days.
Author: Michael Harris