Photo above: Brian Williams telling his Iraq War story to David Letterman. (YouTube)
Last week, 700,000 viewers failed to tune in to NBC. With the New York Post making note of the fact that winter is generally a time for higher viewership, it’s a notable though likely temporary decrease.
Brian Williams is facing a six-month, no pay suspension after lying about various incidents, including an event occurring in Iraq in 2003. Coverage on his home network was scarce to nonexistent prior to February 11th of this year. Matt Lauer reported on the Iraq incident, in which Williams told David Letterman, in 2013, that he had been in an aircraft shot down by an RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade).
Even Geraldo Rivera, who defends Williams and calls the public and NBC “hypocritically self-righteous” admits that Williams, being the successful news anchor that he was, did not “[appreciate] the intensity of the [public’s] reaction.” However, Rivera thinks a second chance would have been a superior decision to the recent, very public suspension. To put the situation in more emotionally tangible terms, Business Insider reported that Williams has gone from 23rd-most-trusted in America to 835th. That kind of rapid decline rarely results in anything less than a vocational splatter.
While it is tempting to believe the values of our past have simply gone to the wayside, integrity is no longer a virtue, and our politicians and news reporters have become less honest as a result, it’s much more likely that our technological advances now manage to pull back the curtain on multiple public untruths. People in power, who face constant time constraints and demands from the American public, have more opportunities — and more reasons — to lie.
Even Hillary Clinton (voted the Most Admired Woman for thirteen consecutive years) has faced this same issue of “mis-remembering,” and there have been many studies showing that false memories can occur in very honest, forthright adults, proving that people can indeed manufacture memories they truly believe to be accurate despite a contradiction in the actual events. And yet, this psychological “liar’s clause” doesn’t explain the almost pathological nature of William’s multiple false claims.
From his assertion that he was at the Brandenburg Gate when it fell in 1989 to his overelaborate description of making small talk with a secret service agent whilst meeting the Pope in 1979 and his still unconfirmed presence traveling with SEAL Team Six, Brian seems to have a bit of a knack for telling tall tales — hence his position as a news anchor.
Rather than placing the blame all in one spot, it’s possible that we might uncover a few culprits here.
Any news organization is simply peddling a product, and that product is information. We, as consumers of information, must determine what kind of product we prefer, and of what quality. Looking at the trending news reports and topics, it’s clear that the American public likes a lot of trash.
- Note: I’ll throw myself under the bus here and admit that I engage in reading my fair share of frivolous, phony “studies” and research of socially-repugnant public figures out of morbid curiosity.
On top of that, most U.S. citizens don’t double check statistics or sources, though they are easily accessible on official government websites, scholarly sources, national data collectors, etc.
Waking Times and Pulitzer Prize nominee Jon Rapporport write fairly consistently about the fake news that passes as accurate and up-to-date information. On their website, readers can expect articles on CNN’s sordid history of staged news reports and the like. Anderson Cooper has been involved in phony footage covering the Syrian conflict (with sound effects added in to make the reporter’s situation appear more threatening), Time Magazine regularly adapts its cover art to present more marketable subject matter, and news sources regularly touch up, change and downright lie via digital photo manipulation.
In a way, this scandal places responsibility right back where it actually belongs: with the consumer. We buy this tomfoolery, after all.
It seems harsh to blame the consumers for a faulty product, because it is. In an ideal world, those who are hired to relay the facts should be relaying the facts. But our current reality also suggests that those who don’t demand a higher quality of news production in an era of easy information access might expect to be duped on a consistent basis. You wouldn’t put up with faulty brakes on a new vehicle, an ineffective Antivirus program on your computer, or an FDA that regularly allowed toxic dye in food marketed to children, would you? Well, truthfully, we have.
In the same way that there is no excuse for us to allow so much of our food to lack nutritional value when we are paying for the FDA to regulate food safety and have millions of dollars invested in teaching our children how to eat, drink and live healthily, it’s also a bit silly for us to be surprised and outraged at one formerly-trusted messenger when we have been ingesting, supporting and requesting fabrications for decades.
We wanted entertaining news? We got it. It turns out that the “You break it, you bought it” philosophy applies to our information consumption as well. We have been buying pathological, sensational, too-good-to-be-true news stories for years. Now grab the pooper-scooper and your preferred Search Engine to sort through all the crap.
As for Brian Williams, he is hardly off the hook, as his reputation and career may have suffered irrevocable damage, but I don’t exactly feel sorry for him. After all, he can spend his time off watching episodes of “Girls.”
Megan Wallin is a young writer with a background in the social sciences and an interest in seeking the extraordinary in the mundane. A Seattle native, she finds complaining about the constant drizzle and overabundance of Starbucks coffee therapeutic. With varied work experiences as a residential counselor, preprimary educator, musician, writing tutor and college newspaper reporter/editor, Megan is thrilled to offer a unique perspective through writing, research and open dialogue.