Hemingway: Brian Williams Is No Exception. Media Lying, Exaggeration Are The RulePosted: February 11, 2015
Mollie Hemingway writes: NBC News’ Brian Williams is taking a few days off from his anchor chair at the Nightly News. The Most Trusted Name In News (TM) is in a spot of trouble. He admits he lied when he claimed he was in a Chinook helicopter forced down by rocket-propelled grenade fire in Iraq in 2003.
There are also concerns about dramatic stories he told about gangs attacking his hotel in New Orleans during Katrina. Whether he saw a dead body floating by him in the French Quarter. Whether he got dysentery on that trip.
Or witnessed someone commit suicide in the Superdome. Also about whether he actually saved a puppywhile on duty as a voluntary firefighter. Whether he was really “looking up at a thug’s snub-nosed .38 while selling Christmas trees out of the back of a truck” in the 1970s. And whether a helicopter he was in during Israel’s war with the militant group Hezbollah in 2006 was nearly hit by Katyusha rockets.
I could go on. The point is that he’s beginning to resemble Jen from the IT Crowd:
[Check out Neil Postman’s book “Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business” at Amazon]
If Brian Williams were just a dude at the bar, he’d probably be your favorite dude at the bar. He has great stories and tells them well. The loquacious Williams is just an obscenely well-paid news reader. As Neil Postman put it in his 1985 book Amusing Ourselves To Death, “A news show, to put it plainly, is a format for entertainment, not for education, reflection or catharsis.” And that’s how we like it — here’s a promo for a new CNN game show featuring anchors competing against each other. (Show ‘em who’s boss, Tapper!)
A Far Worse Kind Of Exaggeration
Some journalists have responded to the Williams spectacle by running defenses they’d never imagine using on others — such as that Williams had ordinary false memory syndrome. Others are just waiting for him to be pushed out or quietly get back to work.
Williams lied. I’m not defending him. But in a world of serial exaggerators and distortion artists, he’s the least of mainstream media’s problems.
Exaggeration and distortion is de rigueur for many political journalists.
Exaggeration is kind of what our media do. Now, part of this is defensible. At one of my first newspaper jobs, I would write unbelievably spare copy that accurately described the event or situation I was reporting on. My editor used to take his big red pen and scrawl, “So what?” across my copy, double underlined. It was a great edit. I had to learn how to make a story interesting and how to pull out the parts a reader would actually care about.
But there’s another kind of exaggeration that is indefensible. Take the story of a low-level staffer of a back-bench Member of Congress sharing some mildly critical remarks about the First Family’s comport. The Washington Post ran more than a dozen stories on the matter. One of them was a story digging up dirt from the staffer’s high school years, written by “foreign affairs” reporter Terrence McCoy. Other media outlets camped outside of her parents home.
Exaggeration is what the media do with every story, whether it’s Ebola, invented vaccination battles, climate change, and any slight mis-step any right-of-center politician ever has the misfortune of even thinking of uttering. It’s what the past few years of War on Women hysteria have been, from the complete and utter freakout over the Komen Foundation trying to extract itself from funding Planned Parenthood, which performs more than 300,000 abortions a year, to the Sandra Fluke saga.
- Questions Are Now Being Raised About Brian Williams’ Reporting On Hezbollah (talkingpointsmemo.com)
- WaPo: Williams’ Katrina tales starting to sound fishy, too (hotair.com)
- Brian Williams: Lying About ANOTHER War Story?! (thehollywoodgossip.com)
- Brian Williams suspended from NBC News for 6 months without pay (stripes.com)
- Did NBC anchor Brian Williams also exaggerate his Hurricane Katrina reports? (matrixbob.wordpress.com)
- Yemen rebels announce takeover, dissolution of parliament (theweek.com)