Here's the transcript of the portion of Paul Ryans's interview with right-wing radio guy Hugh Hewitt that has raised a lot of eyebrows:
H.H.: Are you still running?
P.R.: Yeah, I hurt a disc in my back, so I don't run marathons anymore. I just run 10 miles [or less].
H.H.: But you did run marathons at some point?
P.R.: Yeah, but I can't do it anymore, because my back is just not that great.
H.H.: I've just gotta ask, what's your personal best?
P.R.: Under three, high twos. I had a two hour and fifty-something.
H.H.: Holy smokes. All right, now you go down to Miami University. . .
P.R.: I was fast when I was younger, yeah.
The claim to have been a sub-3-hour marathoner was startling enough so that some running journalists began investigating. They became skeptical when, searching the Internet, they had trouble verifying that Ryan had ever finished a single marathon. Eventually one discovered that he had run Grandma's Marathon, in Duluth, in 1991, finishing in a little more than 4 hours, 1 minute. At about this time Ryan put out a statement:
The race was more than 20 years ago, but my brother Tobin--who ran Boston last year--reminds me that he is the owner of the fastest marathon in the family and has never himself ran a sub-3. If I were to do any rounding, it would certainly be to four hours, not three. He gave me a good ribbing over this at dinner tonight.
So, he's a liar, right? It doesn't really get you anywhere to say it's a trivial matter, because in that case, why lie about it? He's so used to lying that he does so even when the upside is . . . trivial. That's what it looks like to me.
People who run marathons tend to be obsessive--about everything, but especially their times. You do not confuse a 4:01 with anything where the first number is a two. It's as if you played baseball and can't remember whether your batting average was around .385 or around .220. "Well, it was more than 20 years ago." Uh-uh. You can't be mixed up about whether you were an exceptional hitter or just good enough to make the team. In the one marathon Ryan finished--another of his little lies is allowing people to think he finished a lot of them--his 4:01 placed him 1990th out of 3277 men. If he had finished in, say, 2:55, he would have been in 130th place. It's the difference between the 96th percentile and the 39th; border-line elite versus second-half-of-the-pack. Yes, Rep. Ryan, it's wrong to round down to three when the data point is north of four. More to the point, however: this has nothing to do with a rounding error.
If you are unfavorably disposed toward Ryan--and I am--there is one aspect of this exchange with Hewitt that seems arguably worse than the lie. It's at the end, right after he's lied about his best time. Impressed, Hewitt exclaims "Holy smoke!" and is then ready to move on to another topic. An ordinary liar, sensing the surprise of his interviewer, might worry he'd maybe lied by too much and would happily assist the transition. Being pathological, however, Ryan can't help himself. "I was fast when I was younger, yeah," he interjects.
No, you weren't. Among marathoners, you weren't even average. It's only among Republican candidates for VP that he might break into the top half.