Mark Twain wrote over 100 years ago “if you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re mis-informed.” And this gives the lie to NBC News anchor Brian Williams’ fake apology for telling a heinous lie for twelve years. Williams said to Star & Stripes, when they broke the story,
“I would not have chosen to make this mistake,” Williams said. “I don’t know what screwed up in my mind that caused me to conflate one aircraft with another.”
Just what mistake would Williams have chosen to make? He wasn’t aboard an Army helicopter that was hit by ground fire and forced to make an emergency landing. For twelve years he claimed that he was on it. There’s no way any person with more than one brain cell and perfect hair could “conflate” those two things. Schrödinger’s cat couldn’t even pull off that trick.
I know what screwed up in Williams’ mind: he lied to make himself seem more special than he is. And Brian Williams is special. He’s the square-jawed, coifed and manicured TV face on NBC News. But that’s not enough for him. He wanted to have a story to tell at bars besides the time he got a paper cut or went on air without pants. So he lied. He made up a story and he kept on telling it. He told the story on The Late Show with David Letterman, and everyone said “wow!”. We should all know better.
There was Stephen Glass, whose string of fabrications at The (now-decrepit) New Republic rivals Soviet history schoolbooks, and there was Sabrina Rubin Erdely, who singlehandedly decapitated Rolling Stone with her fact-deprived rape story about UVA. Journalists lie, and we should all know better.
In polls, we say we don’t trust the media, but the media doesn’t seem to get the message.
Fifty-six percent (56%) of all voters regard the news reported by the media as at least somewhat trustworthy, but that includes just six percent who think it is Very Trustworthy. Forty-two percent (42%) don’t trust the news media, with 12% who believe the news it reports is Not At All Trustworthy.
Only 6% of American voters rate the media as “Very Trustworthy”. That’s more than the 1.5% who believe they’ve been abducted by aliens, and about equal to the number of Americans whose IQ is 75 or lower. Anybody smarter than Forrest Gump knows not to believe the media. Either the media is made up of nincompoops or they’re the most narcissistic bunch of liars outside of politics.
There’s nothing more pretentious than the media reporting on itself, especially on its own scandals.
The Washington Post reported, without irony, about Brian Williams, that “[at] least in the short term, the false story may damage the anchor’s most valuable asset — his credibility”. What’s amazing is that the WaPo never considers its own credibility, as if it were unassailable. Or as if they could never publish a story about black gay men and HIV filled with fabrications. Or this. Or this. Or maybe they “misremembered” Janet Cooke, who perpetrated a Pulitzer Prize winning hoax thirty years ago beneath their august masthead.
Certainly now every media outlet will report on Brian Williams and his lies, after all, it’s the big story. They’ll all report it as if they stand aloof from the hoi polloi of regular people, standing on the Olympian precipice of Journalism and Truth. At the same time they tsk-tsk at Williams and his tall tale, they’ll carry their own tales with them.
Because the media’s biggest secret, the one they try to gloss over, misdirect away, or simply ignore, is the same one uttered by Charlton Heston’s character in the 1973 paen to dysfunction “Soylent Green”. The media is people. Every word published in “all the news that’s fit to print”, every word on every TelePrompTer at CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox News, every story flying over the Internet, is written and spoken by people. Fallible, imperfect, sinful people.
The media is made up of people who lie for all kinds of reasons. They also harbor biases, fetishes, sycophantic desires to get close to certain people, and dastardly plans to destroy others. When Dan Rather ran with an obviously false story in 2004 questioning President Bush’s National Guard service, was it really to break a big exclusive? Did Dan really need that for a career boost at 73 years old? No. Dan wanted to affect the outcome of the 2004 presidential election. Specifically, he wanted to sink Bush. Anyone smarter than Forrest Gump knows this. Yet Dan Rather’s apology was a study in pretending not to know.
“We made a mistake in judgment, and for that I am sorry,” Rather said. “It was an error that was made, however, in good faith and in the spirit of trying to carry on a CBS News tradition of investigative reporting without fear or favoritism.”
The error was clearly not in the “good faith and spirit” of reporting without favoritism. The apology itself was disingenuous and akin to saying “I’m sorry I got caught. I swear I’ve never done this before. I don’t know what came over me.” Who, me? Is that my hand in the cookie jar? Why, it is! How about that! Oh, are those the keys to your car I was about to drive off in? Gee, I didn’t realize. What a mistake in judgment. I don’t know what screwed up in my mind that caused me to conflate your new Benz with my 10 year old Suzuki.
Rather’s fake apology is so close to Brian Williams’ version that they both should form the Network Anchor Liars Club for Men, fake hair and all. Maybe if the media types stopped spinning long enough to admit the truth, they’d be able to call a lie out for what it is. All those years when Brian Williams told his story in front of other reporters, who must have suspected it was a bald-faced lie, everyone played along. They played along because Commander McBragg stories are common among the media cocktail party set. But most of those stories stay at the cocktail parties.
Williams made the mistake of telling his to audiences, and on late night talk shows. It caught up with him when the crew members of the Chinook helicopter that actually was shot down in Iraq became weary of hearing the lie repeated so often in public. They went to Stars & Stripes with their story, and Williams’ lie caught up with him.
We are all taught as children that honesty is the best policy. Honesty is also the 9th commandment, and lying is a ticket to Hell, so says the book of Revelation (chapter 21, verse 8). Maybe our media elite need a lesson in humanity, a lesson in humility, and a primer on truth. Because it’s important that we believe the media. If we don’t believe the politicians and we don’t believe the media who are supposed to keep the politicians honest, what’s left? Don’t answer that. Okay I’ll answer it: what’s left is the fact that we’re human.
Brian Williams succumbed to one of Mark Twain’s rubrics on lying: “The lie, as a virtue, a principle, is eternal; the lie, as a recreation, a solace, a refuge in time of need, the fourth Grace, the tenth Muse, man’s best and surest friend is immortal.” He then seamlessly moved into another Twainism: “I would rather tell seven lies than make one explanation.” But really, all Williams did was prove that he’s human, and the smartest thing the media can do is arrive at the fact that these revered institutions of Journalism and Truth are nothing more than Soylent Green: they’re people.
We should know better than to let them be anything different.
(crossposted from sgberman.com)
(photo credit: Shutterstock)