My dad is a journalist; well, a columnist now. But he was a newspaper man from carrier to executive editor and reporter to columnist for all of my life. He still is. You can read him at this address if you’re so inclined. Now, he’s an op-ed writer. His topics vary wildly and he has a fatherly bent to everything he writes. He went to Brown, then he got a duly impressive Stanford fellowship for something government / policy / newsy-related (I’m sure I will hear about the details over the phone or on email) when I was born. But I love my dad because he’s my dad, and I respect his career choice and his education.
When I was younger and living in Buffalo, NY, Dad had a high-intensity job as an executive editor at a daily morning newspaper called The Buffalo Courier-Express. He often told me that he had the same job that Mark Twain / Samuel Clemens did at the same paper. The EE is the person who decides whether to kill the presses for a story and explain the massive loss of time and income to the publisher. I think I remember him telling me of ONE occasion when he decided that what was going on was worthy of shutting down the presses. And Brian Williams was there.
No, he wasn’t.
I couldn’t resist.
Anyway, my dad’s adherence to the code of truth and personal integrity was forged in me as how one forges a sword. I can’t stand lying. I see no need for it. My entire childhood was set on the stage between a truth teller (Dad) and a fabricator (Mom); were there inconsistencies of portrayals? Of course, because it’s a very thin line which separates them. But I’m not here to write about that.
It’s that division between truth and untruth in my father that put bread on our table, paid for my violin lessons, sent me to camp, educated me as a kid, then put me through college. Every freakin’ penny paid toward my betterment and the betterment of my brothers, was earned on the scales of journalistic integrity, the difference between truth and fallacy. We lived under the banner of the Fourth Estate and we did not live like Williams,
earning stealing $10m a year TO LIE TO US.
My dad’s income was enough. We had a nice house, we had some nice things and luxuries that most people don’t have, so I’m forever grateful that my father told the truth, wrote about it, encouraged others to tell the truth and never gave in. Still. To this day.
So I hope everyone knows the story now about how Brian Williams “misremembered” the facts (because as far as he’s concerned, it’s really hard to distinguish a rocket-propelled grenade from a hand gun and being shot down versus fired upon) and is chalking his recollection of his antics in Iraq 2003, shortly after the start of our war there to “conflation” and “the fog of memory.”
Here’s me: Aren’t the events enough on their own? Isn’t the fact that he got to sit in his $5,000 suits on camera every night with his strangely shaped face (which I really don’t want to go into but it is off-putting and disarming: his crooked smile and weird chin and nose that wants to go its own way), and announce the news enough? That’s all he did, it’s all we expected. He wasn’t actually reporting on most of it, he was the lead who told us about the story to come that the other people did the reporting on. From that perspective, it’s ok, but once he got in the mix, started holding the mic, that’s when things get dicey.
When I first saw him take over the desk, I thought, “Meh. Ok. It’s apparent. He’s no Brokaw [whom I admired and respected]. He’s no Tim Russert [whom I REALLY respected (woot! woot! to my hometown boy, may he rest in peace)]. He’s Brian Williams… he’s perpetually tan, he’s white [shocker], he’s sort of engaging and monotone… he’s earned his stripes on that $300 Brooks Brothers rep tie.” My understanding now is that when he told that story about the RPG and the Chinook in 2003, Brokaw was still at the desk and no one called him on it. It was an easily verifiable claim.
NBC Nightly News “With Brian Williams” — that’s the part I never understood.
David Muir who may be on the 10th floor but his hair is on the 11th.
Is CBS still a network? I’m 47, staring down the barrel of 33, so I refuse to watch anything on CBS.
Who cares? Why is the anchor name such an important part of the branding? When these networks hang their veracity on the singular entity (the news anchor) they blow it. It might as well be “NBC Nightly News — With Jay Gatz” (little shout out to my man, Gatsby) now.
It’s not “Apple iPhone — with Steve Jobs” or “Washington Post — with Jeff Bezos” (you do know that, right? You DO know that the Amazon founder bought the Washington Post … right?) or at least not yet.
The Fourth Estate is in trouble, my friends. It has been for a long time. Because of money, fame, camera time and all the rest. It seems that telling the stories that need to be told to the people who are willing to hear them isn’t enough anymore. We have to embellish, also known as LIE.
Why Don’t We Care?
What upsets me almost as much as Williams’ behavior is that some people just weren’t upset about it. That it wasn’t a big deal to them. In this world of fame-seeking and 15-minutes of YouTube, no matter how short the attention span, people didn’t seem to be terribly bothered by it. In fact, some people were rather blasé about the whole thing, “A journalist lied … pass the chicken wings and butter sauce… Donald Trump’s about fire that housewife…”
That sort of freaks me out a little: have we become so desensitized? Are we that confused? Do we expect to be lied to? Or have we become a people for whom the truth doesn’t really matter so much anymore? That Williams’ Walter Mitty -inspired imagination is one thing, we all have fantasies of heroism or endurance, but that he went on to LIE ABOUT IT for YEARS again and again and again and again… and on camera, on Facebook on Twitter …. as recently on Letterman last week. It’s awful, and that people really aren’t too bothered by it is even more disturbing to me. This should be very disturbing to people.
Maybe he wanted to be caught.
As a person of a certain tribe which lots of Americans have clearly taken for granted, the so-called “Fourth Estate,” I wrote of Williams,
He’s a journalist who is supposed to just report facts. It’s one of those things that America has that other nations don’t, that we can root out corruption and write about it in our newspapers and magazines and on the television and on the radio.
And he lied about his Katrina coverage and what he witnessed. Again. And again.
But for him, the stories, just on their own weren’t compelling enough. He had to inject his bull into them and seek more attention. He had to Be There more than he was.
This isn’t just stretching the truth. It’s pathological and a major character flaw. But it’s not just him, Rather did it, and supposedly Brokaw and other major hitters knew about Williams and counseled him to stop. He wouldn’t. And he got busted last week on the NBC Facebook page by people who were there and it’s just gross. He only owned it when service members called him on it. He falsely claimed valor. And then chalked it up to the “fog of memory” and termed it “misremembered”; It’s really pathetic.
His “apology” — the transcript is more theatrically brilliant than his actual portrayal; if you have another person with you, I want you to click on this link and have one person read the transcript aloud and you try to listen … without canting your head or furrowing your brow. It’s a fun game. If you do it as a drinking game, I would suggest that each of you take a shot (ha ha) with each mention by Williams of himself (I, me, my and we). I counted 12. You should be good and hammered (as Williams should be by the establishment), by the end of the apology. If you’d like to just keep it to first person “I” mentions, it’s seven; still a lot.
The apology wasn’t full ownership. It was doubleplus speak and contextual semantic gymnastics; it funded as though it were crafted in a board room.
His apology should simply be this:
“I lied. Often. Repeatedly. About the same story. Again and again in an attempt to steal the thunder of the brave people who actually deserve it. Here’s your Emmy back. You can find me under a 30 Rock now…”
Williams talked about covering Hurricane Katrina: “Katrina offended me. It meant that every president from Lyndon Johnson on had either lied to me or had been betrayed by public policy.” NnnnNnnnNnnnnn at this link:
It’s a pleasant interview, but it’s where Brian Williams blurs the lines, continuously, in a way that I’m unsure (because I don’t watch TV all that often, frankly) other television news anchors or newspaper journalists have. He loves the stage. He loves the light.
Moth to the Flame
He’s been on other media — “30 Rock” — this clip is one of many from Williams’ random cameos on my beloved “30 Rock” sitcom.
It makes me squirm, watching him there. It always has, when I see him do things like that. It’s like Bill Clinton talking about boxers or briefs, or Michele Obama on Nickelodeon. There’s just… a wall or a line that is getting blurrier and blurrier.
I shared that link of Williams wanting an audition with people on a thread about this matter on my dad’s Facebook wall, primarily because he runs with an older set, and I think it’s important to really do what one can to show the whole picture of a person or his “media availability” in a situation like this and then I commented once more because I simply can’t abide what he’s done:
I’ll stop here, but I just wanted to add this last link (you can find more on your own); but any JOURNALIST / NEWS anchor who is willing to say these lines, even in jest as part of a script, needs to have his head examined:
Williams plays legendary newsman David Brinkley opposite Alec Baldwin as co-anchor Chet Huntley. The two of them play sexist newscasters who have a hard time understanding that their reporter Jamie Garnett — who was played by Tina Fey — is actually a woman. (Huffington Post)
“Look honey, you have a dynamite shape, but you’re gonna have to shut up and let a man tell us what’s happening,” Williams said. “Now, is your father or a policeman nearby?”
Here’s the link to that portrayal with Alec Baldwin: http://www.thedailybeast.com/videos/2012/04/28/30-rock-takes-on-david-brinkley.html
I will submit, that it’s very funny writing, but it’s also sad that things were ever that way (moving on). Something about it though breaks the “fourth wall” of theater or parody, in that an active news anchor is playing an old, now-dead news anchor, in a way that is totally offensive. I mean, when is it ever ok for an established current news anchor to do that?
A long time ago, when I first started seeing him on “30 Rock”, I wondered about him… I thought, “One time, ok. He’s playing himself, it’s at NBC about NBC, so I guess it’s ok…” but the more and more he appeared on the show, the more he was willing to bend the reality, the oogier (that’s a word) I felt.
But this…. the Iraq and Katrina stuff… It’s insatiable, his need for attention, his need to lie and his need to inject himself into the story — that’s almost VERBOTEN? Is it verboten? Don’t inject yourself into the story? Just tell the facts? Isn’t that THE POINT of journalism?
It disturbs me.
Right now, I’m listening to his appearance on Letterman in 2012, and it’s really too bad, because he’s terribly charismatic. He is clearly a lover of the spotlight and he’s quite funny and entertaining and talented as an impressionist and where he went wrong, where lots of people who really belong in entertainment, who really should be on a stage or in front of a camera –not broadcasting the news– go wrong is that they … sigh (sorry, Mom) … should have nothing to do with truth, unless the character they are portraying, demands it.
Should We Be Surprised?
His pursuit of truth has never been dogged, clearly. Yet he sat behind a desk, where it is understood, and not tacitly in the least (but not for long because more and more people are losing touch with the meaning and importance of truth in all aspects of life because it feels to me that a great majority of younger people simply don’t care about truth anymore, they want to know about cat memes and Kim Kardashian’s kouture and other stupid stuff, because let’s face it, the truth is hard to experience) that truth is what matters most. Not opinions, not slant, not personal involvement, not allegory. Truth. His casual use of craft parlance, referring to helicopters as “helos” and “birds” is unnerving as well, seeing as how he hasn’t ever served in the military. He claims in that transcript link above that no one is trying to “steal anyone’s valor” but it sure doesn’t feel that way. Is it a case of “just wanting to be one of the guys”?
“Conflate.” If anyone has been conflating anything it’s him regarding his job with entertainment. THEY ARE NOT THE SAME. It’s very simple:
Were you there or not?
Did you sustain RPG fire in your Chinook as other people did or not?
Were you in a flooded hotel in the French Quarter or not?
Did you see a suicide or not?
It’s that simple.
While this is a serious problem, as a nation, clearly, we will be OK. It’s Brian Williams who isn’t ok; but America has a short memory. And what he’s lying about is all to garner sympathy and to make him look more involved than he actually was, and people protected him and that’s a problem too, so he wasn’t exactly discouraged. The way he’s embellished the stories isn’t especially damning, it’s just wrong. That he had to do it is sad… So, I bet in five years, he will have a cooking show or a book come out and all will be forgiven, because as a morally just people, we should forgive him, but what he’s done to the field of journalism is wrong — it was selfish and wrong and for that, he deserves some punishment.
The cynic in me wants to suggest that it’s the whole concept of journalism –tell the truth– that is selfish and wrong, that we are all flawed and screwed up people for 1) expecting the truth and 2) leaving it up to other people to tell us the truth.
This whole thing leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I thank my dad though, he’s old school. The facts are enough on their own. I didn’t even know that “misremembered” was a word. Man, some people will do anything to avoid the bare, real, actual, bone-deep truth.
PS — WHAT THE WHAT?! Here is Williams announcing HIS OWN DAUGHTER’S role on Peter Pan… it’s so so so so so WEIRD.
“Family members confirm she’s been rehearsing for the role since the age of three and they look forward to seeing her fly…”
It’s YOUR OWN KID, Williams! What on earth is the matter with you?