Wendy Davis: When the Truth is Not Enough

“Where were you born?” Every few months, I sit across the table from a new client and a recording device. “Let’s start from the beginning,” I say, after pouring a cup of coffee and settling in to hear their story.

I’m a “ghostwriter,” or — as some prefer — a “celebrity collaborator.” That means I listen to the details of people’s lives and help form them into narrative, book form.

Over the course of my occupation so far, I’ve traveled over 12,000 miles and conducted interviews on a presidential campaign bus; in an Olympic training center; in a Tex-Mex restaurant; and in a nail salon. Regardless of location, however, every book begins with questions designed to get to the heart of each person’s story.

Lately, I’ve wondered what it would be like to sit across from Wendy Davis.

Davis, as you may remember, is the Texas state senator who filibustered for abortion rights, which instantly catapulted her into the Democratic stratosphere. She’s attempting to parlay her newfound fame into being her state’s first Democrat governor in almost 25 years. Her story of adversity, strife and hard work has been a cornerstone of her campaign and fundraising.

Davis, we were told, was a divorced teen mother who worked her way from a trailer to Harvard through true grit and independence. What she claimed to be a “real Texas success story,” however, has turned out to be a bit more nuanced. Some of the details were wrong.

Davis divorced when she was 21, not 19 as she has claimed. She did live in a mobile home — her parents’ — but it was only for a few months until she found an apartment. Then she married a lawyer who was 13 years her senior. He paid for her last couple of years of college and her years at Harvard Law School. She divorced him the day after he paid the last bill. During the divorce, he accused her of adultery and received custody of their two children. Her husband said she claimed she said she “didn’t have time for children.”

Of course, she’s not alone in misrepresenting her story. Barack Obama’s memoir has many claims that turned out to be distortions, according to Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist David Maraniss, including:

• His claim that his grandfather — a cook in the British Army — was detained by the British in Kenya and tortured.

• The story of his dad’s stepfather being killed by Dutch soldiers as he fought for Indonesian independence.

• Obama’s claim that his father abandoned him when he was 2 years old.

• His complaint that upperclass Hawaiian girls wouldn’t date him.

Plus, a character called “Ray” who was symbol of “young blackness,” was actually half Japanese, part native American and part black. In fact, he wasn’t even a close friend.

If we’re honest, many of us tell stories in ways that enhance our own reputations.

So, why is it so hard to tell one’s own story honestly?  Read my three reasons in my new column at Rare.

Read more on the Patheos Faith and Family Channel and follow Nancy on Twitter and Facebook! 

About Nancy French

Nancy French is a three time New York Times Best Selling Author.

  • Chris

    It is really pathetic that you have to turn everything into a swipe at Obama. This is apparently a false idol in your life and you should repent!

    • David French

      I don’t think she idolizes President Obama

    • http://www.NancyFrench.com/ Nancy French

      What part was a “swipe?” When I recounted the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist’s findings? The writer who is a Democrat?

      • Michael

        I think the point that Chris is making is that you come across as small and petty when you consistently and childishly attack Obama. It does seem like attacking democrats is more important than reaching the lost on this blog. Do you see any way that this might hinder someone coming to Christ because they now associate Christianity with small-minded republican ideology and not the cross?

        • http://www.NancyFrench.com/ Nancy French


          again… Where was my attack?

          • Michael

            “Barack Obama’s memoir has many claims that turned out to be distortions.” You start out talking about Wendy Davis and, like so many republicans, apparently see almost anything as an opportunity to attack Obama. I cannot help it if you refuse to see this as an attack.

            I just don’t see the value in posts like this. Do you not get how this might turn people off of Christianity? Can you not at least acknowledge how this line of political attack might also be damaging to our commission to share Christ’s love with the world?

          • http://www.NancyFrench.com/ Nancy French

            So… You are taking offense at me pointing out that the President lied in his book INSTEAD OF being offended that the President lied in his book?

            Also, was the journalist who wrote the book examining the claims of Obama’s book “attacking” the president and “childish?”

            Since I was writing an article about “lying when you tell your own story” and my experience as a ghostwriter, are you telling me that mentioning another relevant example is “attacking” and “childish?”

            Sorry — there’s no attack happening except in the comments section and they are directed at me. (Aren’t you concerned about your Christian witness?!)

          • Michael

            You are bound and determined to avoid anything of substance!

            A large part of my Christian witness is apologizing for ideological partisan hacks who masquerade as Christians. Thanks for giving me more examples of what Christians ought not be like!

          • http://www.NancyFrench.com/ Nancy French

            Michael, I’m asking for substance! Begging you to tell me what I’ve done that is childish. I think what you are trying to say is that I should not bring up another example of a person telling their story dishonestly?

          • Michael

            This sort of petty bickering against people you disagree with is childish. You choose Obama/Democrats for a reason and I am shocked that you are willing to pretend like there isn’t a larger ideological point to your post. Furthermore, the way that you jab people and then pretend like you are just bringing up an “example of a person” is passive aggressive and, again, childish. I can’t explain it in any other way and you do not seem to be in the business of acknowledging things that problematize your partisan ideology. This is my last post on the subject because you don’t seem to be willing to engage with what is obvious.

          • Ell

            No, we have a greater problem than Nancy French passively aggressively being in the business of refusing to acknowledge things that problematize her childish partisan ideology. We actually have a real problem: Obama and his supporters treat us like children, lying and scripting “reality” to promote their crippling economic policies and damaging cultural visions.

          • JasonMankey

            There’s a constant undercurrent of “look how bad the President is.” Many people elaborate, misrepresent, and flat out lie about their past. You could have easily chosen a conservative or a Republican to profile alongside Davis. It’s obviously partisan.

          • Ell

            Given the enormous effect the Obama administration’s societal overhaul and executive power-grab has on us, it makes sense to use his lies as examples rather than those of less powerful figures. Besides, he tells so darn many! How could Nancy French ignore the elephant in the room?

          • Alan

            Eli, I don’t think you understand the point of Jason’s post. Your post, like Nancy’s original post, is not helpful.

  • KarenJo12

    1. Senator Davis separated from her husband when she was 19. Texas law requires long separations before the divorce is final. She was a single mother at 19 and in the process of divorcing her (really worthless) first husband.

    2. So how long do you have to live in a trailer for it to count? Have you ever lived in one? I haven’t and won’t. Trailers are filthy and dangerous. (The weather service actually warns trailer residents to go outside in the event of a tornado. Think about that one.)

    3. Her second husband paid for her schooling, otherwise she wouldn’t have gotten any. She worked for years with him at a very successful title business — while he was on the Ft. Worth city council — until she was elected to the city council. In Texas, the money they earned together from the title business is community property, that is, it belongs to both of them. So, no matter who signed the checks, the money that paid for her schooling was legally both of theirs. Anyway, why do you care who paid for her education? Do you think she shouldn’t have received one?

    Honestly, please continue with this. I’m sure many Texas women will be thrilled to hear the Republicans say that we aren’t miserable enough! We should be barefoot, pregnant, and ignorant.

  • Jay Ar

    It seems like really poor sportsmanship to publish emotional accusations from a husband to a wife in divorce proceedings, to tarnish a female politician’s reputation. Chase down facts, fine, but that’s really not very cool to repeat accusations about her sexual behavior and mothering abilities from sources like that.