Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Why Brian Williams Did What He Did

Everybody lies.  Yes, you lie, too.  We lie about what we're doing, feeling, not doing, and not feeling.  We lie to others and we lie to ourselves.  That's perfectly okay.  As thinking, reasoning adults, we can gauge the relative social importance of one lie to another.  When you don't want to tell a co-worker that you've got a massive headache, you answer, "Fine," to his, "How you doin'?" in the hall.  However, when your wife asks you how your day went and you give her the same "Fine," even though you were just fired for writing company checks to pay for your mistress's Invisalign treatments, that's extremely bad.  We all know this, but I had to set the table so we could eat.

NBC journalist Brian Williams lied.  A lot.  About a number of things.  It's clear that the deeper one digs, the more lies will be uncovered, but it's equally clear that the full extent of his untruths will never be revealed.  Even though we all lie, his lies are especially egregious because as a journalist, he has the duty to tell the truth about what's happening where.  So it's only right and proper that we question how often he has lied and about what.  Whether these questions are rooted in schadenfreude over a partisan journalist's deserved comeuppance or a true desire to get to the truth is immaterial: journalists are offered specific protections under the U.S. Constitution, and have a duty to earn those protections.  Just as your free speech rights don't include falsely yelling "Fire!" in a crowded Kanye concert, freedom of the press should not be extended to individuals who intend to report falsehoods under the guise of real news.  

Being around military personnel, especially ones who have seen combat, can be an emasculating thing for certain men who haven't served and haven't seen the elephant, like Williams.  How can your petty day-to-day experiences reading copy off a teleprompter compare to putting your eyes to the sight of a gun and pulling the trigger on another human being?

They can't.

It's even worse if you're a famous journalist and you have to be around virtual teenagers who are part of that brotherhood.  A brotherhood you will never join.  You haven't paid your dues.  You haven't been so tested.  How small, how weak you must seem to them.

During my time in video production, I met a great number of people who claimed more combat experience than they had actually acquired.  Some of them I worked with very closely.  They inflated their resumes to give themselves credibility they hadn't earned.  They omitted important facts about themselves.  They presented themselves as people they patently were not.  Not all of them, of course.  Many were and are the real deal, with skills honed through experience, not classroom study or practice with cooperative assistants.  

When wading through that kind of BS, it's very easy to let some get stuck to you.  People tell war stories all the time, and there's typically an element of competition about it.  Think Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw comparing scars in Jaws.  Or, if you're so inclined, call it dick-measuring.  

I don't have those experiences.  My previous work had some element of danger to it, insofar as it included firearms and work with some real sociopaths, but it didn't compare to what the average American soldier serving in the conflict-ridden Middle East experiences every day.  And I'm perfectly fine with that.  I do what I do and I respect and support what they do. My resume is what it is, and my body of work speaks for itself.  So I can't measure my combat dick against some kid's half my age who served in Afghanistan.  I won't bother trying.

Part of being comfortable in your own skin is establishing comfort with your own experiences, no matter how prosaic.  Save the resume enhancement for a job interview.  


Sean Eaton said...

Have to wonder whether Williams acted alone on his inflated resume. Insofar as broadcast journalism has become infotainment, one can imagine his parent company encouraging exaggerations like he made to increase celebrity status--in the same way that rap stars often fabricate a criminal record to increase credibility with fans. It seems we lost the line between fiction and nonfiction a long time ago.

Unknown said...

From recent investigations, it's clear that the execs at NBC news knew about his penchant for lying and simply let it go.

I could fill forests of paper describing my contempt for journalism as it is currently practiced, especially among broadcast journalists.

It's not that Williams's lying was supported insofar as his acting alone. Think of it this way: you're a stringer camera operator and you were there on the helicopter that didn't get shot at. Are you really going to risk your career by accusing a famous journalist like Brian Williams of lying?

The American public's comfort level of narrative dressed up as news is starting to fray at the edges, now that new media (including social media) has exposed so many frauds and charlatans. I pray the trend continues.