Embellishments tarnish a hero’s legacy

In the days and months, now even years, following Sept. 11, 2001, the media has provided details about that day by telling the stories of the men and women of the New York Police and Fire Departments who were at the scene and their heroic efforts to save lives. However, in the case of the late Officer Cesar Borja, the story of this hero appears to have been embellished by the media and by politicians in order to push certain agendas.

It was first presented to the public, initially it appears by the New York Daily News, Borja rushed to the scene of the World Trade Center after the planes hit the twin towers. Reportedly, as he was running toward the Twin Towers, he breathed in toxic fumes that emanated from the buildings after the crashes. Days after, Borja volunteered to help clear out the debris, reportedly working 16-hour shifts at Ground Zero. The New York Daily News, among others, picked up his cause after he became sick lung disease.

After hearing this story, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) wrote to President Bush about Officer Borja’s, requesting that the administration allocate more money for workers at Ground Zero because of the mounting reports of cancer and other afflictions from inhaling toxic fumes following Sept. 11. Officer Borja’s story also produced an invitation to his son, Ceasar, to attend this year’s State of the Union address. Tragically, it turned out to be, the same day as his father’s death and young Ceasar was in the nation’s capital, rather than at his father’s bedside.

However, the truth of this man’s story turns out to be far less epic and not accurate. In fact, many events described simply appear to have been made up. There’s no question Borja performed admirably and volunteered to work at Ground Zero – but this occurred months after the fall of the towers. In a Feb. 13 New York Times article, the Borja family and evidence from Borja’s notes exposed the true details. Borja did not “rush” into the Twin Towers, he never worked a 16-hour shift during that time, and according to his own records, he did not work at Ground Zero until Dec. 24 of that year. But what appears to be the worst offense of all, however, is that no media outlet before now thought to actually practice journalism and check the facts behind this story. How is it possible that so many news sources picked up this story, yet all failed to correct these great inaccuracies?

The reason that comes to mind is that the media used Borja’s story to further their own agenda and enhance their criticism of the Bush administration for not providing enough support to Ground Zero workers in need of care. And Sen. Clinton and her staff are as culpable as the media in spreading the myth of Borja. It was an error on her part to write the letter to Bush citing Borja’s story without double checking if the details were accurate. Her actions are now questionable because she spread falsehoods in order to increase government funding.

Unfortunately, a good man’s life is put under a microscope after his death. The media and politicians seemingly exploited one man’s life and death for the noble purpose of getting additional funding for afflicted workers. Considering the embellishments that have been revealed, it’s the family that ultimately has to take the brunt of this unfortunate situation.

The family is not totally without blame. While they acknowledged that no one ever asked for proof, they could have come forward earlier to try to set the record straight. And now, at least to some, the image of their loved one may have been tarnished by a falsified account of his actions. It is a shame that these media outlets never taught to check their facts before presenting them as truths. Theses events makes it appear that those involved in spreading these half truths believe the ends justify the means.