As consumers of the news, we rely on the media to faithfully execute their job in delivering the news to us. However, it is not always the case that they do this. Sometimes news media outlets purposely lie to us; embellish stories, and only cover one side of an issue. Of course, some outlets are guilty of this more than others (*cough* Fox News! *cough*). Objectivity is a necessity to conscientiously educate the masses. It is not only important to recognize when news sources act irresponsibly so that we are not influenced by their propaganda, but our reaction and the actions we take to prevent further lies has become increasingly important through the development of the information age. This new series here on my blog, Keeping them honest, is an attempt to expose the shortcomings of the modern news media, particularly partisan media, and demand greater honesty from those who deliver the news. Why the name “Keeping them honest“? Why not “Holding them accountable for constantly lying to us”? Well, the second title is a little more realistic to the actual nature of the series, but “Keeping them honest” sounds nicer and is simpler, so I chose it.
Anyone who has been following the news recently is familiar with the Brian Williams controversy, the dispute which has led to the destruction of NBC news anchor Brian Williams’ career. What began as a lie told over the years provoked a response from a number of individuals clarifying the story, resulting in an all-out media frenzy, ending with a six month suspension without pay for the once “most trusted man in news.” How could this all happen so quickly? How could one man’s credibility and entire career, one in which millions relied upon him for information for over twenty years, be crushed in less than one week? To answer these questions, we must thoroughly analyze the situation and understand why Williams told the lies that he did.
The first of Brian’s embellishments that we learned of was perhaps the biggest one. The Iraq story, which originally began as an adventure in the deserts of Iraq (none of the articles I’ve found say exactly where in Iraq) in which an American Chinook helicopter was shot down by an RPG, was escalated over the years by Williams from the helicopter being in front him, to ultimately being the helicopter he was riding in, when in reality he was in a separate helicopter an hour behind the one that was shot-down. This last embellishment was so far from the truth that someone who was on the chopper that was shot down commented on Facebook that truthfully, Williams was in another helicopter and asked a few hours later about what had happened. This one Facebook post and the confusion that ensued resulted in an on-air apology from Williams, who stated he had “made a mistake in recalling the events of twelve years ago” when attempting to “thank and honor a veteran” who protected him. What Mr. Williams did not mention is that his telling of the story had shifted throughout the years. It was not just a “mis-remembrance” from a few weeks ago on Letterman’s show. This shows that he continues to lie and will not live up to his mistake. He plays the twelve years card, but we all know that you cannot “mis-recall” an event, even if it was twelve years ago, in which a helicopter is shot down in the skies of Iraq, especially if you might’ve been in said helicopter. Brian Williams is a 55 year-old national news anchor, not a 95 year-old WWII veteran with dementia. It’s perfectly normal to forget to feed your pet once, or to forget to eject your flash drive from a USB drive, but to mis-recall something like that? It’s unbelievable, and the other lies that Williams has told throughout his news career is further evidence that his “mistake in remembering” the Iraq incident was indeed a lie.
After the whole controversy on Williams’ Iraq story, it didn’t take long before the news media knew they couldn’t exploit the material for so long, so they went ahead and found even more dirt on Brian. One of the other controversies around the man also involves Iraq. Williams bragged to other media outlets, not NBC News, that he flew into Baghdad with SEAL Team 6, and that he had received war memorabilia as gifts from some Navy SEALs, such as a knife and a piece of the helicopter from the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. On CNN, Special Operations Command spokesman Ken McGraw stated “We do not embed journalists with any elements of that unit … bottom line — no.” This is just one of the many altercations that have occurred throughout Mr. Williams’ career. If one were to analyze it in its entirety, they would be overcome by the amount of fabrications America’s most trusted news anchorman has released over the years. Many journalists, however, have tried this, and have further added to the fire that is so vehemently burning both Brian Williams’ credibility and career.
NBC’s coverage of Hurricane Katrina’s damage on New Orleans, which was very well received at the time and earned Williams a Peabody award, is now being cast doubt due to uncertainty about some of Brian’s statements on his experience there. A CNN News report pointed to his inconsistency on a suicide that occurred in the New Orleans Superdome. In a 2005 documentary, Williams indicated that he and his team had only heard about the suicide, but in a 2014 interview, he claimed that “We watched, all of us watched, as one man committed suicide.” There is also uncertainty on whether or not Williams lied when he said in a 2006 interview that when staying at the Canal street Ritz-Carlton, he saw a dead body floating past his hotel. Amid all the other controversies enshrouding Williams recently, the hotel manager at the time, Myra DeGersdorff, recently claimed that none of her staff had seen dead bodies float past the hotel.
If that weren’t enough, it also unclear if Williams was at the Bradenburg Gate on the night of the fall of the Berlin wall, like he claims, or not. At the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in 2008, he recalled that he was “at the Brandenburg Gate the night the wall came down.” Although it is not a far stretch from the truth, it is still a fabrication. It is true that Williams covered the fall of the Berlin wall in Berlin, but reports reveal that he did not arrive until the day after the wall fell. These are just a few of the controversies that arose from the whole BW dispute, and the most popular ones that have been circulating the web. Many more are being released each day, eating away Williams’. Celebrities from many industries have spoken out either defending or attacking BW, but it has largely been his peers, his fellow news anchors, who have profited from the controversy and are mass-covering it.
When it was first discovered that Williams had lied about being in the helicopter that was shot down over Iraq, practically every news source; online, radio, or television, they all grabbed the kite that was this whole hullabaloo (I should use that word more often) and ran with it. Even FOX News, the news channel that produces lies and right-wing propaganda 24/7, took a brake from their ritual spewing of hatred for the President to reveal the shortcomings of BW’s reporting.
Just when you thought the media couldn’t get more hypocritical, the far-right radio host, Rush Limbaugh, entered the circle of “journalists” burning Big W’s (I’m running out of names for Brian Williams) reputation by personally denigrating him. “Brian Williams has been discovered, it’s now public knowledge, he dropped out of school. He attended community college. Now, Ivy Leaguers do not have that blemish on their resumes,” Rush said on his Monday show. I don’t even know how to react to this. Sure, Williams doesn’t have the best academic record, but Rush is no one to criticize. He also dropped out of college. Though he never attended a community college, he never went back to school and has not received as much education as Williams. The stupidest thing about Rush’s commentary on the issue was that he didn’t even talk about the controversy or how Williams lied, he’s just taking personal shots at BW, not using objective evidence. Why and how does he even think that people can take him seriously when criticizing another journalist? He’s notorious for never researching things before his show. Just last week, when he heard that President Obama had released a PSA condemning violence against violence and calling for action, though he hadn’t watched it or read the transcript for the announcement, he castigated the President for not talking about ISIS or something he thought is more important than domestic violence. Obviously Williams and Limbaugh are not on the same level of credibility importance, one is an anchor and the other a conservative political commentator. Still, all journalists must be abide to a certain level of professionalism.
Despite all this hypocritical and aggressive coverage, there was one comedian who held the journalists accountable. Jon Stewart, who humiliates the mainstream media on a daily basis, showed a montage of clips from news coverage reports on the BW controversy, all of which were throwing Williams under the bus. “Finally, someone is being held to account for misleading America about the Iraq war. It might not necessarily be the first person you’d want held accountable on that list. But never again will Brian Williams mislead this great nation about being shot at in a war we probably wouldn’t have ended up in if the media had applied this level of scrutiny to the actual fucking war.” An excellent point, one that no one else seems to be making, or if they do, they are responded with a faint “Shush!” Stewart then rolled another clip montage of pundits on cable news shows claiming that credibility is of the utmost importance for someone who reports the news. With this logic, if it truly is the duty of the media to pursue fallen journalists like Williams for lying, shouldn’t it also be obliged to reveal the lies of the most senior officials in the U.S. government? Rational thinkers would say yes, but to those in the news media who want to stay on the good side of the political establishment would oppose this sentiment to maintain interviews and coverage they need so much, even if it means publicizing propaganda and not telling the public the truth about who runs this country, which of course, is all about credibility. Of course it’s easier for news sources to cover the downfall of one of their peers, but to hold politicians from across the political spectrum accountable for lying? Unfathomable.
This whole controversy and the media’s response to it arises many questions on the status of our media. Why is it that so many reporters jumped off their seats in eagerness to destroy the career of a man who was widely respected among the news industry before all these revelations started coming to light? Is it because it’s too interesting a story to not cover ardently? Perhaps so. They certainly got our attention. Brian Williams is now suspended from NBC News for six months. I wouldn’t be writing this post if they hadn’t made a big deal out of it. I’m not usually one to follow stories involving celebrities, which this is essentially. They might have gone a little overboard, but I’m glad that they held Brian accountable for the fabrications he distributed. When doing it, however, they should have considered the quality of their own reporting and of others in their networks to refrain from being too hypocritical. In order to faithfully execute their watchdog role, they must also attack politicians when they lie or engage in corrupt practices, not just when one says something controversial, like we saw recently when Rand Paul said that vaccines shouldn’t be mandatory. An efficient media is one that is completely honest with its viewers by delivering them the most investigative and objective material possible. Brian Williams didn’t do this and it cost him his career. Should he be allowed to come back to NBC Nighty News after his suspension is over? I say no. Once a reporter tells so many lies as he has, they no longer deserve their job. They have disgraced themselves, their staff, and their audience. This goes not only for the Chief Anchor of NBC News, but everyone on FOX News and MSNBC as well. You can give your opinion like I’m doing right now, but you have to tell the truth. Journalism, after all, is the search for truth and to share it with the public.