Brian Williams, Lies, and the Press

Brian Williams was recently suspended by NBC for six months after the veracity of one of his Iraq War stories was brought into question. Apparently, back in 2003 Williams related a story on the nightly news about his presence in a helicopter convoy that was targeted by enemy fire. The helicopter ahead of Williams was hit by a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) and forced to land. Over time this story would “evolve” into the version that Williams relayed during NBC News broadcast coverage of a public event in New York City honoring a retired soldier with Williams being a passenger on the downed aircraft rather than a mere witness. The retired soldier being honored at the New York Rangers hockey game was one of the ground security soldiers present during the event in question and recalled the occurrence very differently, eventually going public with his version.

What is most interesting about this affair is not that a major media figure, and journalist, repeatedly fabricated a story in order to make himself appear as though he had some kind of honorary privilege in the brotherhood of war veterans. No, what is most interesting is that Brian Williams’ lie about a a part of the Iraq War will likely be the only lie about the Iraq War resulting in consequences for the fabricator. Let us not be mistaken. The major media, acting as public relations consultants for the Bush Administration, sold the Iraq War to the public. In the wake of 9/11 many Americans, traumatized by the horrific events, and having witnessed them over, and over again on television, being repeatedly re-traumatized, lived the next few years in a kind of fugue state, and susceptible to any machinations designed to give the impression of increased security. Surely, members of the press were not immune to the effects of such an environment, but no one has ever been held to account for the falsehoods so readily spread by the press in the months preceding the conflict. And Judy Miller losing her job at the New York Times to then be hired by Fox News a few years later is not enough justice; if it is any justice at all.

Yes, there is legitimacy in interrogating Williams’ claims, not only the claims about this particular instance, but any other potential false claims, for he is a journalist, and is entrusted with a credibility given only to people engaged in enterprises aimed at serving the common good. The American media is inquiring into the claims made by Brian Williams because it is easy. Williams has quickly become a villain in the profession of journalism, and frankly, it costs very little in terms of money, time, human-power, and no journalist will have to put their credibility, reputation, or employment at risk in order to publish information on this scandal. It is the path of least resistance, something most modern journalists seek without conscious awareness. No producer was fired for booking Dick Cheney on Meet The Press before the Iraq War as he cited his own leaks in the New York Times as evidence of an impartial assessment of the case for war on Iraq. Tim Russert, host of Meet The Press at the time, never took responsibility for his failure, nor did many of his colleagues. In fact, journalists such as Dick Gregory, the man who took Russert’s place as the host of Meet The Press after Russert died, argued that the press did its job quite well during the Bush Administration. Of course they did. And Brian Williams is piloted that wrecked helicopter to a safe landing.

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