Stop the lying: Verify academic credentials for all candidates

Many political junkies and non-junkies know by now that Florida state House candidate Melissa Howard went to great lengths – including displaying a fake diploma — to conceal that she didn’t have a college degree from Miami University (Oh.)

At first, she refused to drop out of the race, but then she did. The whole sordid tale became a national story and is highlighted in a recent commentary by Sarasota Herald-Tribune political editor Zac Anderson.

Anderson writes:

But it wasn’t lying about her degree that made Howard’s story so sensational, it was the lengths she went to try to defend that lie. Howard flew back to Ohio, where she claimed to have found her framed diploma in her mom’s storage unit. She distributed pictures of the diploma, including one that showed Howard and her mom posing with it on a couch.

The diploma states that Howard has a degree in marketing. But the story quickly fell apart when the university’s general counsel stated that Howard never graduated from the school and that the diploma “does not appear to be an accurate Miami University diploma.” Miami University doesn’t even offer a degree in marketing.

It would be wrong for me to say that this case is an anomaly because it’s not. In the decades I’ve worked in journalism, I’m come across many academic-degree lies that just didn’t need to be lies.

Maybe someone attended college, but never graduated. Just tell that to voters.

Maybe someone finished all doctoral classes but didn’t finish the final dissertation. Just tell that to voters.

Maybe someone went on a different path that didn’t involve a college degree. Just tell that to voters.

Melissa Howard’s saga is a cautionary tale, particularly for journalists who don’t always check on academic credentials.

The academic credentials of every candidate seeking public office should be verified.

Voters want, and need, to know the truth.

 

Diane Rado
Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She spent most of her career at the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times and the Chicago Tribune. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and did a fellowship in education reform at the University of Michigan in 1999-2000. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.

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