Impoverished politics: Brian Williams and the lie of the century
by Virginia Johnson
It’s been a few weeks since it came to light that NBC News anchor Brian Williams had lied about a personal experience in Iraq in 2003 while covering the US invasion of the country. He claimed that he had been shot at while riding in a helicopter, when really he had been riding in a helicopter 30 minutes behind the one that had been shot at. Since the fib was uncovered, the incident has turned into quite the scandal: Williams no longer works for NBC, and has even resigned from the Congressional Medal of Honor Board. He has been shamed and embarrassed, likely completely ending his career as a journalist.
This incident does of course remind all of us of the important issues of ethical journalism, a job which used to require unbiased reporting of facts as they are presented. As I’ve written about before in this column, journalistic integrity is constantly being compromised by the affluent powers that be. Whether it is a wealthy sponsor, or a thirst for high ratings, news reporting nowadays is more about what will bring the network money, not about delivering unadulterated facts to its viewership.
While the end of Williams’ career at NBC is completely warranted, this whole incident should bring the entirety of the media under harsh critique. Williams lied about getting shot at in Iraq, but it’s almost impossible to imagine how many lies have been told in our mainstream media to push agendas far more important than an anecdotal recollection of Iraq.
A great example of a man who has lied repeatedly on air, and specifically about his knowledge and experience with war, is none other than Bill O’Reilly. O’Reilly, who has been going on rants about Williams’ helicopter blunder on his Fox News show, claims to be an expert on war. In fact, in his memoir he recalls being in Argentina after their surrender to the British in 1982. He recalls a riot that broke out in Buenos Aires that turned violent, and even deadly, saying that troops fired into the crowds at civilians.
Other reporters say there said they saw nothing so dangerous happen and footage taken that day would support their claims. O’Reilly and so many journalists like him love to be able to claim their master
knowledge of war, only making it easier to propagate warmongering.
Perhaps more ridiculous that media outlets and journalists lashing at each other for their untruthful war reporting is political figures expressing those same sentiments towards them.
Before the invasion of Iraq, politicians on both sides of the aisle perpetrated the lie that WMBs were definitely in Iraq, causing the longest war in US history. Imagine if the population had the same level of concern about accountability then instead of now. At a certain point after September 11, news outlets were simply publishing government press releases and not even bothering to fact check them. This of course led to an incredible rise blind, hatemongering ‘patriotism’ which in turn also meant that if you weren’t for the war in Iraq, you were anti-America.
In this sense, at times our journalists can seem more like propagandists than actual reporters, and if we’re going to hold one man accountable for a lie he told on air, then simply the entire industry should be too. So whether you’re joking or going on a tirade over Brian Williams, don’t forget the dozens of other talking heads we see every day who haven’t been shamed for their erroneous reporting.