Brian Williams and the Line Between Truth-Lie

by Bill Brenner on February 10, 2015

Brian Williams lied and ought to be fired.

Mood music: 

The NBC Nightly News anchor says he “conflated” events when he told the world he was on a chopper that was shot at during the Iraq War. In fact, he was in another chopper an hour behind. I don’t see how one could possibly misremember something as huge as getting shot at.

As this shitstorm intensifies, we’re hearing about other points where he embellished his storytelling, including his work during Hurricane Katrina.

Williams’s integrity has been compromised. In the news business, where truth is the Holy Grail, this is a fatal, self-inflicted wound.

Yet part of me feels badly for Williams.

He did something a lot of people have done: Taking a true story and adding more color to it over time, to the point where the truth part evaporates. People do that all the time. It usually starts off innocently enough, but with each retelling, an embellishment is added here and there. It’s so subtle that the storyteller isn’t always aware of how carried away they’re getting.

The difference is that Williams was trusted to deliver the truth whenever the cameras rolled.

When most other people embellish, it’s in front of a smaller audience, usually a group of friends. Often the storyteller has had a few drinks. Just as often, people in the group are trying to top the last person with something more amusing or outrageous.

Have I ever done it? I’m sure I have. Because I’m human and get caught up in moments, too.

In this blog I do my best to remember events clearly and truthfully and retell it as honestly as I can. Do I misremember things along the way? Probably. My standard operating procedure is to correct the record when that happens. Because lying is too fucking easy. It takes just a millisecond to cross that line.

Williams is paid to be disciplined and accurate; he didn’t merely get carried away among friends. For that he must pay a price.

But I won’t stop feeling just a little bit badly for him.

Brian Williams, NBC Nightly News file photo

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