“...I am presently too much a part of the news...”
February 8, 2015 7:47 AM   Subscribe

Brian Williams, Under Scrutiny, Will Take Leave From ‘NBC Nightly News’ [New York Times]
Brian Williams, acknowledging that the scrutiny and criticism he was attracting was becoming a distraction for his network, said on Saturday that he was stepping aside as anchor of NBC’s “Nightly News” for the next several days.

Mr. Williams has been under pressure after veterans questioned his account of an incident involving two US helicopters that came under fire in Iraq in 2003. Reporting from New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has also subsequently been called into question.

Regarding the events in Iraq, Williams apologised on air on Wednesday, saying: “I made a mistake in recalling the events of 12 years ago. I want to apologise. I said I was traveling in an aircraft that was hit by RPG fire. I was instead in a following aircraft.”

A Personal Note from Brian Williams:
"In the midst of a career spent covering and consuming news, it has become painfully apparent to me that I am presently too much a part of the news, due to my actions. As Managing Editor of NBC Nightly News, I have decided to take myself off of my daily broadcast for the next several days, and Lester Holt has kindly agreed to sit in for me to allow us to adequately deal with this issue. Upon my return, I will continue my career-long effort to be worthy of the trust of those who place their trust in us."
NBC to investigate anchor Williams' Iraq war reporting:
"In an internal memo, NBC News President Deborah Turness told staffers that a team would gather the facts about the incident in which Williams, 55, falsely said he was in a U.S. Army helicopter that was hit and forced down by an RPG. "This has been a difficult few days for all of us at NBC News," she said. "As you would expect, we have a team dedicated to gathering the facts to help us make sense of all that has transpired."
posted by Fizz (110 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
Good thing right wing heroes never had done such a thing...
Ronald Reagan tells a story about a heroic pilot to whom he personally awarded a medal.[8] However, he was actually recalling the story line from a theatrical production entitled “Wing and a Prayer”.[8] Reagan misattributed a real life experience with one he had actually seen in a movie. However, he strongly believed that he was involved in the medal process to this war hero.
posted by symbioid at 7:50 AM on February 8, 2015 [31 favorites]


Actually, its about ethics in war reporting.
posted by Fizz at 7:52 AM on February 8, 2015 [33 favorites]




Well finally someone lost thier job due to lying about Iraq.
posted by The Whelk at 8:00 AM on February 8, 2015 [109 favorites]


I think there's an expectation of politicians lying, whereas the hope is that journalists stick closer to the facts.

NPR had a segment on this the other day where they walked through his descriptions of the event from then to now, and it was interesting to hear them slide very smoothly along a spectrum, ending with an entirely different description than what he had started with.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:02 AM on February 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Lost their job? ITYM earned a nice paid vacation.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:03 AM on February 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


Oh come on now. It's nice in these troubled times for people of all political leanings to be able to come together and say "what a mendacious piece of shit".

Seriously, no one gives a fuck about Brian Williams, right? This isn't like Dan Rather, where there was credibility to be lost.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 8:04 AM on February 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Now he can devote himself to rap full-time.
posted by box at 8:06 AM on February 8, 2015 [9 favorites]


Purely as an aside - Williams' demeanor has always irked me. I always got the sense he was completely full of himself.
posted by davebush at 8:11 AM on February 8, 2015 [5 favorites]




The difference, I suppose, is between the General who tells war stories at his club, where the story is the main thing, and the General publishing his memoirs, where there are people who are hired to fact check everything because they might get sued otherwise and are also paid to break it gently to the General that his story is a load of cobblers.
posted by dannyboybell at 8:13 AM on February 8, 2015


Like any person capable of independent and/or critical thought watches the nightly news.
posted by entropicamericana at 8:14 AM on February 8, 2015 [18 favorites]


The most annoying part, at least to me, is that there's alll this focus on one guy who egotistically exaggerted about being some kind of war hero. Not a good thing, of course, but it's basically just chest pounding. Meanwhile, there are entire "news" organizations whose entire reason for being is to shovel lies down the throats of its viewers, who happily swallow those lies whole and beg for more, and then go cast votes on that basis (vide the 2014 midterms). So all the wailing and gnashing of teeth over Williams allows people to focus on him, instead of on a far more real problem -- namely, the propagandists masquerading as journalists who, unlike Williams, are having a real-world effect of fucking things up badly.
posted by holborne at 8:17 AM on February 8, 2015 [78 favorites]


The Nightly News is light entertainment dressed up to look like news.
posted by bstreep at 8:20 AM on February 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


Did Brian Williams tell this helicopter story a lot? I've seen him on late night talk shows dozens of times, but I can't recall him talking about it on those venues before. I've never watched him do the news and don't follow his career all that closely, but I do enjoy when he does weird comedy stuff like SNL appearances. The story came as a surprise to me since I'd never heard him talk about it.
posted by mathowie at 8:23 AM on February 8, 2015


“We have currently a built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information. Our mass media reflect this. But unless we get up off our fat surpluses and recognize that television in the main is being used to distract, delude, amuse, and insulate us, then television and those who finance it, those who look at it, and those who work at it, may see a totally different picture too late. ” ― Edward R. Murrow
posted by Fizz at 8:23 AM on February 8, 2015 [8 favorites]


“I made a mistake in recalling the events of 12 years ago."
"It has become painfully apparent to me that I am presently too much a part of the news."

Even his resignation statement is full of dishonesty and spin.

"mistake in recalling the events" makes it sound like he misremembered the incident. I am sorry buster, but being shot down in a helicopter and intervieweing the survivors are so vastly different experiences that if you conflate the two, then you are basically senile and not fit to be a reporter anymore. So if that is really the case, then fess up and say that you lost your marbles and need to retire.

Also, the issue is not that you are too much part of the news. The issue is that you lied and distorted the facts. This is about the worst thing that a journalist can do. This is roughly the moral equivalent of a doctor killing his patient on purpose, or an attorney loosing a case on purpose.

The news business in the US is in a very sorry state indeed when the most trusted news anchors are comedians on a TV channel filled with "puppets making prank calls."
posted by sour cream at 8:23 AM on February 8, 2015 [16 favorites]


I m pretty sure he is quitting because he can no longer be trusted to get away with his lies.
posted by srboisvert at 8:27 AM on February 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Did Brian Williams tell this helicopter story a lot?

Often enough to have created a history of changing versions, at least. Whether or not that rises to the level of actually having any importance is a different question.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:28 AM on February 8, 2015


Quitting?

Upon my return, I will continue my career-long effort to be worthy of the trust of those who place their trust in us.

He's planning for this to blow over, which is probably delusional. He's finished.
posted by thelonius at 8:29 AM on February 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


FWIW, Williams has not quit or resigned yet.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:30 AM on February 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


He's planning for this to blow over, which is probably delusional. He's finished.

Lots of people have been "finished" before and come back. I wouldn't be so sure.
posted by josher71 at 8:31 AM on February 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


The most annoying part, at least to me, is that there's alll this focus on one guy who egotistically exaggerted about being some kind of war hero. Not a good thing, of course, but it's basically just chest pounding.

Actually, it is a lot more serious than that. It's called war propaganda and someone in the news business has no business doing that. He is giving an impression that he is risking his life to find the truth when he was just fibbing.

This is not something to dismiss. If this was a habit, how come he got as far as he did? Even if this was a one-time fib, it still is war propaganda, which is a very serious transgression. We allow all sorts of garbage pollute the information stream, but enough is enough.

If you can't deal with truth and reality, you deal with your weaknesses, but don't mess up everybody else's lives because of it...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 8:34 AM on February 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


He's perhaps finished at his current job but there are plenty of "news" organizations where he would fit right in. Not to mention many companies and industries would be more than happy to have his as their spokesman.
posted by tommasz at 8:36 AM on February 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Good thing we didn't have a movie lionizing a war "hero" that included a lot of unconfirmed "facts" (like kill counts, etc...)
posted by symbioid at 8:37 AM on February 8, 2015 [17 favorites]


It's called war propaganda and someone in the news business has no business doing that

Well, sure. But they do it all the time.
posted by josher71 at 8:38 AM on February 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's called war propaganda and someone in the news business has no business doing that

Sure, but again, I wonder where you would place Williams' bloviation on a scale relative to, say, advancing the lie that a middle eastern country possesses weapons of mass destruction.
posted by holborne at 8:42 AM on February 8, 2015 [8 favorites]


This is such an overblown scandal. Not that Williams probably didn't let his ego get the better of him a little, just that of all the contemporary examples of public figures lying or distorting the truth for personal gain or in service to some ideology, this is just about the pettiest, least substantial one I can think of. When Oliver North lied to congress and the American people, his punishment was the medal of honor. So obviously, we don't always disapprove of lying in its own right anymore. Which is it? Is lying bad, or is lying a necessary evil like Cheney would argue? Why does steroid abuse turn Americans off to baseball but get shrugged off when it comes to football? Williams didn't tell a lie that cost any lives or money, and yet here we go, burning all the other more serious and dangerous liars in effigy using Williams as our Guy Fawkes straw man.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:43 AM on February 8, 2015 [38 favorites]


Okay, but now let's treat anyone spreading lies on a news channel the same way Williams is being treated. Left wing commentary sites have been taking Fox News to task for years, but the major news networks say little. Let's see a single standard.
posted by tommyD at 8:44 AM on February 8, 2015 [7 favorites]


It's called war propaganda and someone in the news business has no business doing that


Fox News literally does this every night.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:44 AM on February 8, 2015 [22 favorites]


I am sorry buster, but being shot down in a helicopter and intervieweing the survivors are so vastly different experiences that if you conflate the two, then you are basically senile and not fit to be a reporter anymore.

If he really was in the following helicopter, then I can easily see how this misremembering might happen. People who undergo traumatic experiences have a way of reconstructing those experiences again and again in ways that paint them in a better light. The human memory is not a simple write-once read-many storage device. Each act of remembrance is also an act of creative reconstruction. And the bigger the ego, the more likely that the memory will shift and shift and shift to a point where a feeling of helplessness (being in a helicopter in a war zone) is transformed into a personal heroism.

This doesn't excuse it, but it's a very human response, and something everyone does themselves, more or less.
posted by dis_integration at 8:45 AM on February 8, 2015 [49 favorites]


Perhaps he can go now work at the NYT, that bastion of independent reporting about the Iraq war
{/}
posted by edgeways at 8:56 AM on February 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Usually when celebrities fuck up, they absolve themselves with a six-week stint in rehab. Is there rehab for lying?
posted by Flashman at 8:57 AM on February 8, 2015


Well, if the first step is admitting you have a problem, I'd imagine one of the next steps would be getting away from a job that requires you to broadcast lies to the American public five nights a week.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:00 AM on February 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


"mistake in recalling the events" makes it sound like he misremembered the incident. I am sorry buster, but being shot down in a helicopter and intervieweing the survivors are so vastly different experiences that if you conflate the two, then you are basically senile and not fit to be a reporter anymore.

Ha, most people think that the sum total of everything they remember actually happened exactly as they remember it, but it's really not that hard to wind up remembering something that never happened.

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/do-the-eyes-have-it/
posted by 23skidoo at 9:07 AM on February 8, 2015 [12 favorites]


Purely as an aside - Williams' demeanor has always irked me. I always got the sense he was completely full of himself.

Me, the opposite. On various talk shows he always seems to be self-deprecating enough that I think he doesn't take himself that seriously.

People that are full of themselves have sticks up their butts. He definitely does not.
posted by e40 at 9:09 AM on February 8, 2015 [10 favorites]


Never liked the guy and his needy whoring into showbiz, so this I see now this could be the sadly logical extension - that he is one of those narcissistic braggarts who exaggerates to put himself in the center. There's also talk that his stories of Katrina-related experiences are fabricated.
From my POV it's about the decline of journalism, TV edition -which I blame partly on Fox. The right-wing propaganda machine has dragged all of television news down, so that it got to the point that broadcast networks thought smug, smarmy people like Williams, Chuck Todd, and the catch a pedophile guy were acceptable as journalists.
I haven't watched much television news in the last decade, but I still recall when the evening news of Cronkite on CBS, Jennings on ABC, Huntley-Brinkley or Brokaw on NBC seemed to be trustworthy providers of facts.
Of course, I also recall when the New York Times and WashPo didn't feel like the Buzzfeed-gen had taken it over. (Imagine that in the 70s: "Ten Awesome Facts About the Watergate Hotel You Must Read Now!")
posted by NorthernLite at 9:09 AM on February 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


I liked Brian Williams a lot, but I can't really explain why I did. He seems approachable, I guess. Not smarmy or self-aggrandizing. So I was seriously disappointed by this. I know TV journalism is mostly just infotainment but I'm an idealist and I wanted someone to rise above it.
posted by desjardins at 9:16 AM on February 8, 2015 [8 favorites]


I think human memory is terrible and so I'm willing to give him a bit of latitude here.
posted by humanfont at 9:26 AM on February 8, 2015 [6 favorites]


When Oliver North lied to congress and the American people, his punishment was the medal of honor.

As long as we're on the topic of falsehoods that flatter our biases, Ollie North was never, thank god, awarded the Medal of Honor.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 9:26 AM on February 8, 2015 [29 favorites]


Black, white, and gray.

When I finally opened my Vietnam journal (sometime in the 90's), I discovered that several things I thought I had experienced happened to somebody else. Reading what I'd written back in the day I realized, yeah, that's what really happened.

It's easy enough to call bullshit, especially if you weren't there, or if your life's experience didn't include a daisy-chain of adrenalin shocks. I have written several articles for our unit magazine, Patrolling. I include names and dates, and other such information about only the patrols I can find in my notes. The rest of my memory is fit only for war stories among fellow veterans. It wouldn't surprise anyone to know that we all acknowledge our failing recollections: each story we tell at the banquet table begins with "This ain't no shit," and each email exchange carries a TANS preface to remind us that the truth is sometimes wrapped in a fable.

I distinguish this sort of error from the outright lies told by the likes of Oliver North and General Westmoreland.
posted by mule98J at 9:32 AM on February 8, 2015 [75 favorites]


Human memory is terrible, and I'm not sure he was consciously lying, but I would have hoped that as a journalist he would fact-check it before broadcasting it on national TV.
posted by desjardins at 9:32 AM on February 8, 2015






I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore.
posted by Rumple at 9:38 AM on February 8, 2015 [6 favorites]


Why does it take them 11 paragraphs to get to the part about what the scandal is over? The first 10 paragraphs are just stating and restating the same things over and over.
posted by crapmatic at 9:42 AM on February 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


As long as we're on the topic of falsehoods that flatter our biases, Ollie North was never, thank god, awarded the Medal of Honor.

Oops. You're right. I think I confused a metaphor for reality for a second. It just seems like we gave him a medal of honor. Glad I'm not a news anchor or this personal flub could call the intgrity of my entire being into question. Not too surprised my own memory's fallible. Haven't met anyone yet whose wasn't.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:42 AM on February 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Is there rehab for lying?

It's not lying, it's acting. (Usually, acting dynasties are handed down from parent to child, though.)
posted by a lungful of dragon at 9:46 AM on February 8, 2015


Hell, Politifact recently found that on average, Fox News personalities outright lie or err about basic, verifiable facts 60% of the time. That's the entire organization, but we're freaking out about one anchor getting a little too full of himself when he goes on celebrity speaking engagements which no one could mistake for serious news? Just seems a little inconsistent.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:54 AM on February 8, 2015 [29 favorites]


I hate it when I forget where I've parked my car and whether or not I've been in a helicopter hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:58 AM on February 8, 2015 [7 favorites]


The difference is that Fox News' lying has been baked into peoples' expectations.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:58 AM on February 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


The news business in the US is in a very sorry state indeed when the most trusted news anchors are comedians on a TV channel filled with "puppets making prank calls."

Comedy Central cancelled Crank Yankers ten years ago. Besides, the best news is on HBO now. (Season premiere tonight, incidentally.)
posted by Sys Rq at 10:00 AM on February 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


Great, can we look forward to fine news stalwarts like Luke Russert, Chuck Todd or Joe Scarborough to replace him?

Brian Williams' muddled macho memories are the least of the problems with network news. The problem is the news as entertainment, war and disaster-porn coverage, ratings-driven sensationalistic nature of television coverage itself where anchors are reality show hosts instead of journalists. I am seeing a lot of hand-wringing about how this harms the credibility of serious journalists ... puh-leeze, where do I find credible journalists among TV anchors? That ship has sailed.

Of course reportage should be truthful, but can we separate the mortal sins that actually kill people from the venial?

Plus, however wrong he's been, we now have Drudge, Limbaugh, Coulter, Breitbart & the right wing outrage machine pumping this up, trying to uncover other "lies" in his coverage, going for the kill like a pack of rabid dogs just as they did with Rather. On Twitter, we have the likes of Judith Miller pointing at him, how ironic is that? The right wing media is never held to the same scrutiny or standards of honesty and truth. Here's their patron saint Reagan, whose faulty memory they conveniently forgave:

"A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that's true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not"
posted by madamjujujive at 10:10 AM on February 8, 2015 [20 favorites]


If he really was in the following helicopter, then I can easily see how this misremembering might happen.
But apparently, he wasn't in a helicopter right behind the one that got hit, he was on a helicopter that arrived on the scene about an hour later. This makes it pretty unlikely for his talk of being inside of the hit helicopter (as he did on Letterman) to be accidental. If that were the kind of mistake he's capable of making (and I don't believe it is), then I wouldn't trust his reporting on what he had for breakfast this morning. Instead, I think he told a stupid lie, trying to make himself or his organization seem more worldly or "brave", and then he either got stuck re-telling it, or kind of took ownership of it and kept re-telling it--like, in getting away with the lie that first time--taking the risk--he felt he had somehow "earned" the right to keep telling it.
posted by blueberry at 10:11 AM on February 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


As I understand it, Williams told his dubious stories while he was doing personal interviews. The dispute isn't even over whether his helicopter really was in a warzone or whether it was a dangerous situation as he claims. He claimed his helicopter "took RPG fire," by which he seemed to mean that insurgents shot at and missed his helicopter with an RPG. No one disputes the helicopter ahead of Williams' actually did get RPGd. People are saying Williams' chopper didn't because there's no evidence it actually took a hit, but at least one of the pilots briefly claimed they actually did come under light gun fire. Maybe Williams didn't fully understand what was happening at the time and later came to have some false beliefs about it. So what? Who died? When did he report that on air as a news story (as opposed to telling it as a personal anecdote in a personal interview)? As far as I can tell, he never did misrepresent these claims as news to anyone. But I admit I might be missing something.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:19 AM on February 8, 2015 [6 favorites]


I've always found him a bit off-puttingly smarmy, but people who actually research memory seem to think it's at least plausible that he mis-remembered. "Memory is totally weird like that."
The made-up memory was a detailed story about getting lost in a shopping mall as a child, crying, getting comforted by an elderly woman at the mall, and, finally, a happy reunion with family. Seven of the 24 participants said they remembered this happening, and many also added more details to the story. In two follow-up interviews, six of them continued to assert that this had really happened to them.
posted by jjwiseman at 10:21 AM on February 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


Did he actually claim the copter got hit, or did he say it "took fire" from an RPG?
posted by saulgoodman at 10:21 AM on February 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


Whether his lying is totally understandable or not he's a journalist so lying is kind of a big deal.
posted by fullerine at 10:32 AM on February 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


Clip from an appearance on Letterman in 2013. Talk of his helicopter getting hit by ground fire--RPG and AK-47--begins at around one minute in.
"Two of our four helicopters were hit by ground fire -- including the one I was in -- RPG and AK-47..."
posted by blueberry at 10:37 AM on February 8, 2015


What in the hell has happened to this country? It's like nobody every heard a story that begins, "So there I was…" before. Furthermore, isn't the impetus for this coming up now the fact that he exaggerated a war story at a ceremony honoring one of the men protecting him during the grounding in the desert to make that guy look better? That just seems… polite.
posted by ob1quixote at 10:44 AM on February 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


I swear to God, if I find out Carl Kasell didn't actually saw Nina Totenburn in half...
posted by Biblio at 10:53 AM on February 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


Re: Puppets and Crank Yankers, the reference is about John Stewart's appearance on Crossfire. Stewart is singled out as a newsman, and he points out that he's a comedian and that the lead-in to his show is Crank Yankers.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:53 AM on February 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


"NPR had a segment on this the other day where they walked through his descriptions of the event from then to now."

The evolution of his story was exactly the same as every one of my drinking stories from college - and I went to a commuter school. Luckily, my livelihood doesn't depend on keeping my ego separate from my recall.
posted by klarck at 11:39 AM on February 8, 2015


Thankfully now that he's off the air our problem with Iraq Lies is solved
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 11:54 AM on February 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


God, I hate it when things like this are in the news. It must be so embarrassing for him! Makes me squirm just to think about it.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 11:54 AM on February 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Fun fact: memory is unreliable. Memories are not accurate recordings of a given event. The act of remembering is a read/write operation. Every time you remember something, you add details to the memory that weren't there originally. Even worse, memories capture the gestalt of the entire event. Therefore, something that happened to someone else during an event can easily be transmuted into something that happened to you.
posted by oozy rat in a sanitary zoo at 12:04 PM on February 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


His job would be safe if he'd lied in service of slandering Obama. Just ask Lara Logan.
posted by dirigibleman at 12:47 PM on February 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


I do wonder if this isn't a genuine case of false memories built up over time -- once or twice I've caught myself having false memories, although not remotely on that scale -- but I also wonder to what extent character (potentially, in this case, a tendency to self-aggrandizement) can encourage the formation of such memories.
posted by uosuaq at 1:09 PM on February 8, 2015


Fox News literally does this every night.

Al Franken (former comedian now senator) has a great bit about Bill O'Reilly's misleading characterization of his war "service."
posted by anothermug at 2:22 PM on February 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


NBC news is on a roll with Williams lying about his Iraq memories and Snyderman breaking her Ebola quarantine. All we need is Al Roker miscalling a major storm for a trifecta.
posted by Renoroc at 2:28 PM on February 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Snyderman breaking her Ebola quarantine

For example, I don't remember this at all.
posted by josher71 at 2:46 PM on February 8, 2015


For 13 million bucks, I'd google that.
posted by clavdivs at 2:57 PM on February 8, 2015


I had a completely different reaction when I read this story. This sounds exactly like something I would do. It happens at least once a week where I'll say something and then hours later think, "Why in the world did I say that? It wasn't true and there was no reason to say it." But luckily, I'm not on TV and nobody is fact checking my weird brain moments.
posted by the jam at 3:29 PM on February 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


I just feel bad for his wife, Morgan Fairchild.
posted by Cookiebastard at 4:07 PM on February 8, 2015 [9 favorites]


The evolution of his story was exactly the same as every one of my drinking stories from college - and I went to a commuter school. Luckily, my livelihood doesn't depend on keeping my ego separate from my recall.

I have a spectacularly terrible memory, at least in part because during the decades when I had most of my adventures I also tended to enjoy more alcohol than was advisable (or, occasionally, sane). I tell stories about some of the more amusing things I saw or did to people once in a while (while trying not to be The Guy Who Tells Stories).

These days on Fridays, the evening during the week when I allow myself a few beers these days, I often get on the voice-over-IP horn with my oldest friend back in Canada, and we shoot the shit and maybe drive around together in a video game for a while. Once in a while, we'll end up talking about some Crazy Shit I or we got up to a decade or two or three back, and I ask him if he remembers it the same way I do, and almost without fail, it becomes clear that although I remember fairly well the gist of the story, the details were invariably different than I remember them. And not consistently, which is gratifying, in the direction of my memory being self-aggrandizing, generally. Just randomly incorrect, mostly.

So I guess I sympathize with Williams to some extent, although I think if I was a public figure of some kind and telling a story that in some way legitimized me in my chosen profession, I'd make a more concerted effort to confirm the objective facts about some event I was a part of correct. That just seems prudent, and not having done so kind of makes his fabulizing seem consciously self-serving.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:11 PM on February 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


I had a completely different reaction when I read this story. This sounds exactly like something I would do.

But here is the difference. Williams was a journalist. He job was literally documenting and recording his experiences in real time as they occurred. He's not after the fact reconstructing some long forgotten piece of his past.
posted by JackFlash at 4:26 PM on February 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Williams was a journalist.

Let's not also miss the point that Williams is one of the highest paid journalists in the entire history of mankind. He's supposed to be the very, very best. Tippity top of the profession. Lord God King of accuracy.

If you were to point at a single person on the planet as the least likely to make this mistake, he'd be on the very short list.

Therefore, one of two things is true.

Either he was stoking his ego and burnishing his cred with what he considered little white lies.

Or everyone in charge of choosing the nation's top journalists is absolutely terrible at their job.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:42 PM on February 8, 2015


Then again, both of those things could be true.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:59 PM on February 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


Either he was stoking his ego and burnishing his cred with what he considered little white lies.
Or everyone in charge of choosing the nation's top journalists is absolutely terrible at their job.


Well, it's almost certain both of these things are true. It's also true the amount of traction this story is getting in various media outlets is determined politically (Williams, with his show-biz connections - 30 Rock and Letterman, daughter on Girls - and some kind of Jimmy Carter connection when he was a college intern, is seen as a friend of the left.)

I also question anyone who really considers him an actual working journalist. He's an anchor, which is to say an actor, reading material researched and assembled by others.

Could be a big opportunity for Lester Holt and his giant forehead, however.
posted by aught at 5:00 PM on February 8, 2015


I also question anyone who really considers him an actual working journalist. He's an anchor, which is to say an actor, reading material researched and assembled by others.

Yes...but that doesn't matter in this context. When he tells his lies about what happened in the desert that day, or he reports on his experience in New Orleans during Katrina (which may also be fabricated), he is adopting the role of a real journalist representing NBC. In those contexts he isn't just reading the news. He is reporting.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 5:08 PM on February 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


The whole thing reminds me of The World of Commander McBragg.
posted by eye of newt at 5:53 PM on February 8, 2015


Did this supposedly happen to him before or after the guy from ABC news was badly injured by the car bomb? Maybe he had to embellish his story so he would look as brave as the other news anchor.
posted by Justin Case at 6:00 PM on February 8, 2015


Remember Geraldo? He was always right dead center in the middle of everything - and nothing. One made-up story after another - did he go to Fox?

Brian Williams isn't a soldier and he's not even a war correspondent - he's just a news anchor who found himself in the air in a helicopter at the war in Iraq, which I'd expect would be scary enough for anyone other than military personnel. While he was in the helicopter you can bet he heard all the stories about taking fire and dodging disaster and heroic pilots and such - at the exact same time he probably heard the sounds of major weapons and gunfire around him. I seriously doubt that he was consciously intending to mislead anyone with his story about being under fire - most likely it was the mere fact that the war itself came smack home to him in that moment and the experience made a "memory" that took on its own proportions.

Honestly, if I were in one of those helicopters I think I'd have to be wearing Depends and I know for sure I'd be talking about it today through my own terrified, if screwed-up, mind.

I like Brian Williams, though I haven't had a television in years now so maybe he's changed - but I doubt it. I am curious about what caused this to explode right now, though - I can't help but wonder who Williams crossed or if someone else is lined up to replace him and why. Time will tell the whole story, but I don't see any reason to condemn Williams while letting Fox slide.
posted by aryma at 6:41 PM on February 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


I cannot see the SNL skit with Alec and Brian discussing things.
posted by clavdivs at 7:26 PM on February 8, 2015


“I would not have chosen to make this mistake,” Williams said. “I don’t know what screwed up in my mind.
I work with people and their remarkably protean memories and desires all the time. For some of the less well functioning, I've seen them literally dissociate--or wall off/mutate beyond recognition--recent, easily verified events within *seconds*. People with strong borderline or narcissist traits seem do this as part of their adaptive process all the time and are often utterly unaware of their ongoing re-editing. For less obviously ill people, some or all of their most treasured childhood memories can turn out, on further examination, to be confabulations or imaginations.

In therapy, frequently, there often comes a moment when a person who's sufficiently self-aware and able to mentalise realises a glitch in their memories, a discontinuity between what they remember is true and what they suddenly appreciate now also feels true. CBTers calls this uncovering incongruent schemas or something similar, dynamic therapists have a range of different models for it. But it's amazing and humbling to witness. I don't think it's healing, per se, but I think it's evidence of a growth process occurring.
posted by meehawl at 7:42 PM on February 8, 2015 [6 favorites]


I don't understand the people rallying to defend him on the basis of false memory. He isn't a child, he isn't suffering from PTSD. He's an experienced professional journalist at the top tier of the profession and he knows the only reason he is even in a war zone is to report verifiable facts.

Right wingers aren't liars as much as they are saying things that are false that they actually believe. That's bad, but throwing it out there as if it makes Williams any less a journalistic failure is ridiculous. He did something different. He made up a better story.

I just finished a rewatch of season 5 of The Wire. I hated it the first time around, but this time I really keyed in on what Simon was trying to say about the type of people who lie in the modern media, and he was right on.

They always start with something small. You know, just a little quote that they clean up. And then, then it's a whole anecdote. And pretty soon they're seeing some amazing shit. They're the lucky ones who just happen to be standing on the right street corner in Tel Aviv when the pizza joint blows up and the human head rolls down the street with the eyes still blinking.

Who even knows what else in his reputation was built on taking shortcuts like this? If a journalist doesn't have trust from the audience, they don't have anything.
posted by Drinky Die at 10:54 PM on February 8, 2015


"Is It Possible Brian Williams Really ‘Misremembered’?" (tldr: Yes.)

OK, here's a true story: I was once riding on a train from Chicago to New York (all planes had gotten canceled due to bad weather) and guess who was sitting in the seat across from me: None other than Brian Williams himself. Well, we got into talking (dude really likes to talk - especially about himself) and he eventually told me about his days in Iraq. Or actually more about the time after it - how he just can't "unremember" the terrible things that happened, how he sometimes wakes up at night and how he had a time on the brink of sliding into substance abuse (although he didn't say that outright, more hinted at it). He also said that the pressure in his job is enormous, but that it's also very, very fun.

Although, thinking about it now, I am not quite sure it was the train from Chicago to New York, it may even not have been a train, and it might also have been someone else than Brian Williams, but some other random stranger. I guess that's why I'm not a journalist.
posted by sour cream at 11:33 PM on February 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


I was there sour cream. It was Scott Pelley.
posted by cjorgensen at 5:49 AM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


The most annoying part, at least to me, is that there's alll this focus on one guy who egotistically exaggerted about being some kind of war hero.

That's sadly what keeps get lost in this whole "conspiracy". He related the helicopter story while talking about an actual war hero.
posted by dances with hamsters at 7:31 AM on February 9, 2015


If anyone here hasn't watched the nightly news in 5, 10, 15, 20 years, I urge you to turn it on and suffer through a broadcast. It helps explain a lot about the state of the nation: at least half of it is dedicated to non-news like extreme weather (nothing about climate change, though), celebrity hi-jinks, and what's trending on social media. Add the obligatory war-mongering straight out of Starship Troopers, and you might have 30 seconds left to gloss over real news.
posted by entropicamericana at 7:43 AM on February 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


Right wingers aren't liars as much as they are saying things that are false that they actually believe.

That might be true about that guy you meet down at the bar, but those folks on TV well know what they are saying is false and what they are saying hurts the nation a lot more than some ego-fueled, or memory impaired, braggadocio.
posted by tommyD at 10:04 AM on February 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


“How Brian Williams’s Iraq Story Changed”The New York Times, 06 February 2015
posted by ob1quixote at 11:13 AM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


I've had this idea for a long time that my first FPP would be about BriBri's comedic walk-ons. I think he's a stellar comic wit, and am surprised so many people read him as icky. Guess that one is out the window now, which is good because it sounds like it wouldn't have been as universally beloved as my imagination had predicted.

You absolutely do not have to have PTSD or even trauma to create false memories. They really and truly just happen to all of us all the time and we don't even realize it.
posted by The Noble Goofy Elk at 11:21 AM on February 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


That might be true about that guy you meet down at the bar, but those folks on TV well know what they are saying is false and what they are saying hurts the nation a lot more than some ego-fueled, or memory impaired, braggadocio.

No, they don't know that. That's the "My political opponents are evil cartoon villains" version of politics that is the real thing hurting the nation.
posted by Drinky Die at 2:52 PM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


This whole thing was a bit of a mystery to me, but I think I finally figured out the game.

“Borrowed valor,” Mona Charen, The Washington Examiner, 06 February 2015
Let me see if I understand this: Chris Kyle was not a hero, but Brian Williams was? What do we make of Williams' attempt to snatch some vicarious honor
posted by ob1quixote at 5:06 PM on February 9, 2015




Brian Williams Suspended From NBC for 6 Months Without Pay

And the hits just keep on coming...
posted by Fizz at 5:27 PM on February 10, 2015


Now that's a mnemonic marker.
posted by clavdivs at 5:42 PM on February 10, 2015




Suspended without pay for 6 months for getting some details wrong on a developing story in an active warzone. That's absurdly unjustified, and there is no TV news organization operating in the US that consistently holds itself to that standard.

While I generally agree that reporters and journalists need to be held to a high standard, this has very strong potential to have chilling effects on journalism in general, scaring journalists away from covering risky stories.
posted by schmod at 5:26 AM on February 11, 2015


He manufactured a story. If you can't punish a journalist for that there is basically nothing you can do to violate the professional standards of journalism.

It seems pretty likely this wasn't even the only time given how crazy and unverified some of his Katrina stories are. I have no idea why people feel the need to defend him, this sort of excuse making is usually a political thing but that isn't the case here so I just don't see why people are pretending this was some misremembered minor detail.
posted by Drinky Die at 5:32 AM on February 11, 2015


It seems pretty likely this wasn't even the only time given how crazy and unverified some of his Katrina stories are.

I agree that Williams should be fired. It's just, so should all those reporters who fabricated rapes and murders in the Superdome during Katrina. I still hear relatives talk about how savage black people are because of those reports.

Then there's Lara Logan, who slandered the president and was back on the job less than 6 months later. And practically the entire mainstream media establishment, whose lies helped get thousands upon thousands of Americans and Iraqis killed. Somehow lies and sloppy journalism in the service of the conservative establishment never get punished as severely as for other reasons.
posted by dirigibleman at 8:36 AM on February 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


Suspended without pay for 6 months for getting some details wrong on a developing story in an active warzone.

oh gosh how will the poor underpaid anchor make ends meet

Aside: I was watching the nightly news last night over at my mom's and they had a sensational report on the Samsung Smart TV kerfuffle, and they said something along the lines of "it sounds like something from Minority Report." My first thought was the more obvious allusion to 1984 was nixed by the higher-ups as too incendiary. My second thought was nobody there has probably read 1984.
posted by entropicamericana at 8:51 AM on February 11, 2015


Ugh, this is hard. Mainly because I can empathize with Williams, if he genuinely misremembered. Conflation does happen all the time, sometimes on grand scales, and especially in relation to traumatic instances, as people have noted above. It's a human thing to do. It's possible that it happened here. What makes me think that it could have happened here is that it would have been the definition of insanity to try and pull off a public lie of this magnitude with the number of witnesses who were actually there, including his camera crew. Or utter hubris, which could be the case, as I think Williams loves to be part of the story and to include himself in his own storytelling. But even taking that into account, I tend to think that Williams isn't as egotistical as much as he just enjoys being a part of something important. We all do.

What is interesting here is that much of the impetus to take this seriously has come internally. There is a lot of smack going around from other media outlets, but the people who are taking this most seriously are those who work with him and oversee NBC, which is where the gravitas for the situation seems to have originated. And I don't think they are doing it because they are just worried about hypocritical perceptions of others as much as they think something inappropriate happened that rightly calls the integrity of the role into question, and as a consequence of that particular fundamental corporate virtue, it will have pragmatic consequences that radiate out. There is some damage control, but not because they thought they were going to be unfairly pilloried. I think they feel they need to do damage control on something that rightly called their integrity as an institution into question.

I think at the end of the day, as much as it's being handled internally as a question of reestablishing trust, there's also going to be a realization by NBC that this will have a practical effect that also cannot be fixed after six months, even if they were interested in a path to redemption (and assuming they don't dig up a lot of other similar instances; if so, all bets are off). People simply won't find him as trustrworthy any more, regardless of whether it can be established it was a conflation of details. I think an ideal scenario is to be rightly concerned about the hit to the integrity of the reporter but also to find a path of redemption for him. The realistic answer at the end of the day, though, is that they won't be able to recapture what made him such a valuable commodity to the network in the first place, even if it ends up he deserves a second chance.
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:04 PM on February 11, 2015


this sort of excuse making is usually a political thing but that isn't the case here so I just don't see why people are pretending this was some misremembered minor detail.

Because this may be an issue involving personal standards, I can't make a reasonable argument as to where everyone ought to draw the line. I agree with the sentiment that credibility among journalists ought to have different rules than table talk among friends, so, digging up a couple of my own pets, here is the way I parse this sort of thing:

"There I was at 30,000 feet with nothing but a silkworm and a sewing machine."

"Our interdiction efforts are bearing fruit. There has been no significant increase in the number of North Vietnamese troops in the south."

Before I was an infantryman, I was a parachute rigger for the brigade. I loved that first story, still do. When I was in LRRP, we hid near trails and counted PAVNs. I hated that second story. I look forward, someday, to pissing on Westmoreland's grave. I say this to illustrate my bias. I don't try to account for all my cognitive disconnects, so, there's that.
posted by mule98J at 7:28 PM on February 12, 2015


It's a human thing to do. It's possible that it happened here. What makes me think that it could have happened here is that it would have been the definition of insanity to try and pull off a public lie of this magnitude with the number of witnesses who were actually there, including his camera crew.

I did not sleep with that woman Monica Lewinski.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:47 PM on February 12, 2015


Hell, Politifact recently found that on average, Fox News personalities outright lie or err about basic, verifiable facts 60% of the time. That's the entire organization, but we're freaking out about one anchor

Since we're talking about factitude here I think we ought to note that what Politifact's page on that story actually says is that in the course of evaluating about a hundred statements "made on air by Fox, Fox News and Fox Business personalities and their pundit guests", exclusively for their "PunditFact" sub-site, 60% of the time they've given the statement a "Truth-O-Meter" rating of "Mostly False, False or Pants on Fire" and that
The comparisons are interesting, but be cautious about using them to draw broad conclusions. We use our news judgment to pick the facts we’re going to check, so we certainly don’t fact-check everything.
posted by XMLicious at 2:32 PM on February 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


“The List: 32 Lies and Disputed Stories NBC News Let Brian Williams Tell for a Decade,” John Nolte, Breitbart's Mausoleum Of Unemployable Pissants, 16 February 2015

N.B. Source aside, an interesting roundup of links I stumbled across when searching for something else beginning with "bri."
posted by ob1quixote at 12:45 AM on February 18, 2015


“Brian Williams Lawyers Up,” Carol Kopp, AOL Jobs, 17 February 2015
posted by ob1quixote at 12:55 AM on February 18, 2015



“Brian Williams Lawyers Up,” Carol Kopp, AOL Jobs, 17 February 2015

Good. We should all have access to excellent legal advice. He's rich, so this is exactly what he should do.
posted by josher71 at 6:52 AM on February 18, 2015


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