Friday, February 6, 2015

Lyin' Brian and the fall of the news media mask

Every so often in the world of the major news media, there's a moment in which the mask completely falls off, and we see people for exactly who they are. Or to borrow from the Wizard of Oz, we catch a glimpse behind the curtain. The downfall of CBS' Dan Rather, when he aired faked letters impugning then-President George W. Bush's service in the National Guard at the height of the 2004 presidential campaign, was one such moment. And this week's revelation that NBC anchor Brian Williams apparently lied about being shot at while in a helicopter in Iraq -- and his subsequent disingenuous apology -- was another.

Of all that's been written in the past few days regarding the Williams controversy, PowerLine's John Hinderaker's piece Thursday does the best job of any I've read at explaining why we should all care. Here's the money quote, which I posted on Facebook yesterday.
Ponder that for a moment: if my speculation is right, and liberal guilt caused Williams to make up a story about his own experience that he told, over and over for twelve years, until it finally brought him down, how else has it influenced him? How has liberal guilt shaped stories that he has written and delivered on the economy; on taxes; on wages; on corporate profits; on fiscal policy; on race relations; on affirmative action; and on many other subjects NBC News has addressed over the years? If Williams would make up bald-faced lies in one context to assuage his own liberal guilt, is it unreasonable to think that he and his NBC colleagues have passed off misrepresentations, misleading data, errors of omission and, yes, outright falsehoods in service of the liberal cause on other topics, for the same reason?
Hinderaker posits that Williams somehow knows deep down that he's grossly overpaid in relation to the troops in the field, and he wants people to know (or at least think) that he's faced combat too. I've never put much stock in the notion of "liberal guilt" because feeling guilty about something requires a certain degree of moral compunction, and my experience with many people on the committed left has been they don't really feel guilty about anything because they're so morally superior. They want you to feel guilty so you'll accept their utopian society.

Since everyone seems to be psychoanalyzing Williams and suggesting ideas of why he did it, here's my guess. He wanted to tell a harrowing, emotionally charged story about how he was almost killed in Iraq so people would ask, "What the heck are we doing over there?" What makes me say this? For starters, he used the fake story as a bullwhip against Gen. David Patraeus -- over the mission in Iraq. And his bosses? They've known for years the story was a lie, yet they kept him on the air. As of this writing, he's still employed as NBC's evening news anchor, and according to one report, the network has no plans to suspend or even reprimand him.

More so I believe than any of the other networks, NBC exists for one purpose: to promote a political agenda in America. It's what the "Green Weeks" are all about. It's why you get hit over the head with lectures about gun control in the middle of football games. It's why figure skater and self-professed gay activist Johnny Weir was featured as an NBC analyst at the Kentucky Derby and at the Super Bowl. It's why MSNBC -- which is part of the news operation in which Williams works as a managing editor -- is the way it is.

The last time I watched NBC's nightly newscast was in September of 2000, when Brian Williams was still the weekend anchor. We were camping on the coast, and Eureka's NBC affiliate was the only station that would come in on my little portable TV. Williams aired a segment on how the Boy Scouts were (supposedly) offending a growing number of Americans because of their stance on gay members/scoutmasters. There were no representatives from the Scouts answering the charges, nor did Williams mention any attempt to contact any. There had been no news about the Scouts and gays that week; it was just a gratuitous slam. A couple of years later I also quit watching "Dateline NBC" when they sought out the mother of a missionary who was held captive in Afghanistan and coaxed her to blast her own daughter on national television -- the same daughter that had been held prisoner by the Taliban. They are who they are.

Hinderaker writes that he doesn't "take any pleasure" in the thought that Williams might resign or be fired. I can't say I'd mourn his departure, if it indeed comes to that. I once knew a reporter who was fired for claiming to be at a school board meeting he was covering when he really wasn't. I've had two coworkers lose their jobs because of plagiarism, including one at the Capital Press. I had a night editor who was let go because he wrote in a brief that someone "was unavailable for comment," when in fact he hadn't tried to reach them. A former coworker who went to another paper botched a county story so badly that she made the officials look corrupt, and she was forced to resign. It's understood in this business that deliberate dishonesty in the course of one's work is an automatic death sentence to one's career. To see Williams sit there and read the news as if nothing has happened seems a bit of a travesty.

But there's at least a modicum of integrity at local and community news outlets where you meet your audience face to face and are thus reminded of your own accountability. From what we've seen at NBC and from its chorus of major-media apologists, there is none. The jig is up. The mask is off.

No comments:

Post a Comment