By now we’ve all read the news that NBC newsman Brian Williams has been suspended for 6 months without pay for “misremembering” certain facts.
Many of us are angry with him for inflating his valor, for creating a false image of heroism.
To me, that isn’t even the worst of his offenses. What we should be mad about is that he inserted himself into the story at all. We should be pissed off that he took the attention away from the subjects of his stories and turned the camera on himself. We should be annoyed that we are so steeped in this Age of Confessional, where people fight to share every mundane detail from their lives, vying for attention, that we actually expect the person reporting the news to become the news. And as attention spans get shorter and shorter while niche programming slices up the pie into ever smaller pieces, I’m not particularly surprised that Brian Williams succumbed to fabulist tendencies. But when everyone turns the camera on themselves, who’s left to objectively tell the story?
Journalist Walter Lippmann once said, “We are all captives of the picture in our head-the belief that the world we have experienced is the world that really exists.” Which is why journalists should be bystanders, reporting the story as objectively as they can. But when journalists ceased to be rumpled newsmen in dirty raincoats, with bad breath, bags under their eyes from lack of sleep, and became attractive broadcast journalists in makeup and nice suits instead, somehow this idea got lost.
But as bleak as it may seem for Brian Williams, I wouldn’t worry about him. Much like maintaining a lie is tough because you can never remember which details you told, I have no doubt that Williams will come back from his 6 month hiatus and all will be forgotten. There will be a new scandal, a new outrage, a new star to blind us. Or maybe Brian Williams will go on a well funded, cross-country trip for a TV special called, “Searching For Truth In America”. He will talk to farmers in Nebraska, ranchers in Texas, street kids in Oregon. He will appear humble, contrite. He will win an Emmy. And when he accepts that Emmy, his speech will be filled with the kind of bullshit we expect from these awards shows. And we will absolve him and move on.