It turns out that NBC News anchor Brian Williams did not come under enemy fire in 2003 during the invasion of Iraq.
No, the real fire is starting now because he told his audience, "I want to apologize. I said I was traveling in an aircraft that was hit by RPG fire. I was instead in a following aircraft." To compound his error, he went on to say: "This was a bungled attempt by me to thank one special veteran." And "I don't know what screwed up in my mind that caused me to conflate one aircraft with another."
In other words, he lied. He didn't "bungle" or "conflate." He lied about this for a dozen years before being called out by Stars and Stripes.
Some disclosures: I like Brian. I coached his son in Little League baseball. His wife is adorable. His daughter is a certified star. He and I have stood at cocktail parties and lamented the false values that kids in our town are taught. I used to watch his “Nightly News” until I tired of the folksy "for us" approach and switched to faster-paced David Muir at ABC. (I stopped at CBS along the way, until Scott Pelley nearly put me in coma.)
But I have to use Brian to make the point that I think the American public is no longer fooled by euphemisms for lying, such as "misspoke" and "error in judgment…” if indeed they ever were.
Thanks to the Internet, and most especially social media, we live in a new era of "transparency," where the mighty can no longer hide their lies. Doesn't mean they have stopped lying, but with a couple of billion instant fact checkers out there, it has become almost impossible to conceal their secrets. Which gets us to the larger issue. Why?
Why would you risk your career by lying on your resume about your college education? Or by making up a combat record or walking around with military medals you bought online? I understand lying to cover up marital infidelity or sexual preference or a minor crime you committed in the distant past. Well, honestly, I don't really understand, but it seems to go on in perpetuity.
But are people in power so insecure that they have to pad already stellar track records with outright lies that could (and do) ruin their careers once discovered? Plenty of folks are saying that Brian won't survive this, since trust is something of a foundational pillar in the legitimate news business.
Once caught, there is an initial scramble to find excuses that somehow avoid the notion of lying. "What was I thinking?" and "I wasn't thinking clearly..." are somehow supposed to fool the public to stop musing, "That guy is lying his ass off." Sometimes outright lies work.
"I never had sex with that woman" didn't cost Clinton his office or his wife and only temporarily hurt his standing in the world. Lying hasn't turned out as well for Lance Armstrong, Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Alex Rodriguez, although it is entirely possible Alex will play professional baseball again.
How refreshing would it be if just one of the many liars among us stood up and said, "I lied. Thought I could get away with it. But now it is clear that I can’t. Forgive me; to err is human. I will try not to do it again, but since I was stupid enough to do it before, I might just do it again."
After all, that is what we are hearing.*Friedrich Nietzsche
For sports fans who followed last week's discussion about the dangers of football:
Isn't it time for the media/press/reporters to take additional educational class like Realtors and Insurance Agency have to do every two years? Both Realtors and Insurance agents take integrity classes as a part of their continual education to maintain their license. Better yet, the press should be licensed in each state they report in. You want a clean press that is honest to all parties? License them.
For those of us who haven't watched network news in decades, who cares?