Sunday, February 15, 2015

Bring Back Brian Williams: Hypocrisy and the News Media … by gimleteye

Brian Williams is a celebrity news anchor who put himself in the middle of a media frenzy by lying about his experience in Iraq; namely, that a helicopter he had ridden in early in the war was shot by a RPG. NBC, that derives a significant percentage of its profit from Nightly News, was pushed back on its heels by the revelation and howling. Subsequently, it acted swiftly and suspended Williams for six months. Subsequently, too, the media picked through Williams' on-air history for other embellishments, if not lies.

Before a rush to judgement about Williams, some mature thinking and even wisdom is required.

The grand meme about Williams is that he is a showboat and interchangeable with his friend over at Comedy Central, Jon Stewart. The meme ends with conclusion that Williams cannot return to his anchor chair at NBC Nightly News.

That is wrong.

Television news isn't about the truth. If it was, news consumers and media executives would long ago have demanded the withdrawal of the license for Fox News and its "fair and balanced" faux reporting. Instead, the audience for Fox News dwarfs its rivals combined.

NBC executives lament that Williams -- who has been their marquee earner for many years -- has been undone by a mistake of his own making. "Their hands are tied."

The problem with this conclusion is that television news itself was long ago undone by its own making: namely, the crafting of news as entertainment. (An excellent HBO drama, "The Newsroom", was crafted around that premise.)

Brian Williams is no one's victim but his own. Television news in the United States -- lead by the Fox / Murchoch / Ailes brand -- it not just its own victim.

In seventh grade ethics class, back when ethics was still part of classroom curricula, I learned about errors of commission and errors of omission. An error of omission, what you don't do -- and should have done -- can be as serious an ethical dilemma as what you did wrong; an error of commission. Brian Williams committed a serious error, but the corporate executives who judge him from corporate suites have done far more damage through selective reporting to fit their perceived marketplace.

From his on-camera demeanor, Brian Williams is the sort of story-teller -- if you will -- who millions of Americans would love to invite to dinner. Just because he is the on-camera face of the news, shouldn't make him a scapegoat when the greater errors of omission by mainstream media are so prevalent as to be virtually atmospheric.

One should think neither more or less of Brian Williams when he returns to the anchor chair at NBC. As for the eminences from the media world, tsk, tsking at Mr. Williams, something about throwing rocks in glass houses …


Anonymous said...

All true, but William's problem is not the hypocrisy of his boss' but his role as the guy in the white hat, someone who still fulfills the myth of a truth-telling, fact-finding journalist.
What happens when newspeople go first-person, as they so often do in this age of celebrity news reporters, is that they need to treat themselves as actual interviewees. He needed to corroborate his own claims by calling someone else who was witness to that day.
Also he needed to be suspicious of whether the interviewee, (himself), had an agenda. Which, of course, he did--to appear the heroic, fearless, real-life journalist that Anderson Cooper might be and Brian Williams isn't. He has been removed from his post as he should be.
It is all-to-human of us to believe our own press releases. The people who are worthy of trust and respect are those who relentlessly refuse to do so and are always clear about their motives. This is the journalists' standard. I hope it is still be taught in grade school, if not in journalism school.

Anonymous said...

Fox news is not considered news by the FCC. Their license is as an entertainment station.

Sadly, there is nothing we can do about the fact they are neither informative nor entertaining.

Anonymous said...

The truths are bad enough in our world. They need no embellishment. We trusted him, and now we don't know if what he says is truth or lie.

If he comes back, everything he reports has to be viewed that way. Could be true, could not be true.