Hasn’t anyone watched season five of The Wire? The media is no longer about journalistic integrity but rather entertainment value. In true capitalistic fashion, the media has become a numbers game where the bottom line is not measured in dollars and cents but rather how many viewers can media programming attract.
In what has been one of the most epic falls from grace, Brian Williams publicly announced that he embellished his war story about being shot down with a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) from his Chinook helicopter in 2003 while covering the invasion of Iraq. Williams regularly commands 9 million nightly viewers, but has been effectively juking the stats and his viewers. It is important to note that Williams did not initially lie to the public about this specific experience during the war, but that the first public lie regarding the incident is believed to be perpetuated in 2007.
It wasn’t until January 30, 2015, when he was live on air to the American viewing public on his show, NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, that he retold his tale. He was brought to task regarding his tall tale by the fellow veterans who were actually struck by the RPG and those with him in his helicopter.
The outrage that ensued afterwards was voracious and Williams was vilified until February 4, when he apologized to the viewing public and admitted to making a mistake. He chalked it up to misremembering the event, although one would find it pretty difficult to misremember getting drilled by an RPG.
Watch The Wire
The reason why I alluded to season five of The Wire, besides making the world aware that the series is arguably the greatest work of television history, is that season five stars Thomas McCarthy as Scott Templeton. Templeton gives lying sacks of shit journalists a bad name by being the undisputed king of shit bags. Templeton was covering a story about a completely made up homeless man serial killer. This was all a fabrication and work of the idiot savant that slightly mimics my own life, Jimmy McNulty played by Dominic West.
The only difference at the end of the season and effectively the series, between Templeton and Brian Williams, is that Templeton was never called out publicly for being a liar. This is despite the fact that McNulty called him out on it and Templeton’s boss, Augustus “Gus” Haynes expertly played by Clark Johnson, even went to the newspaper’s board of directors to call Templeton out on his bullshit.
The point being that eventually everyone and their whore of a mother knew that Scott Templeton was lying, except the public. All that mattered was that Templeton told one hell of a story. A story that was too good to check.
The same can be said of Brian Williams. His media coverage is predicated by his commanding on air presence and his gifts as an orator. However, the semi fictional Baltimore Sun and NBC’s real life senior staff and directors did not give a flying fuck because they love to have their media outlet win shiny medals and trophies as much as Williams and I do. The stats are all that matters.
The role of entertainment media and journalistic integrity is at a crossroads
The lines have been blurred. When Brian Williams is the star news anchor of what is his own news broadcast, he is first and foremost a journalist. When Brian Williams is doing anything else in the media, he is an entertainer. He was unable to distinguish the two anymore. The universal outrage that ensued about his epic storytelling that occurred while he was a journalist was so oppressive, that even I could not avoid the story and ensuing drama.
I rarely watch television unless it is a sporting event, Seinfeld, or to watch a movie. I choose to learn about the world news through media apps such as CNN, MSN News, and the holy grail of truth, Google. The only reason I have devoted this much attention to the story is because of my history as a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation New Dawn, and as a liar.
As a young man I was enthralled with the stories of Homer, especially his epic war poems The Iliad and The Odyssey. I came to learn that if you are able to captivate an audience, whether an individual or group, you can tell them anything if you say it confidently enough.
I rarely lie, but when I do, it’s usually about how tiny my penis is. And in those rare times where I do lie about anything else, it’s a huge web of intricate lies. Just ask my two best friends, Daniel Juris and Jaguar Paw about the Belarusian exotic dancer that asked to marry me but I said NO! Or ask them about my father’s programming acumen and life as the most skilled hacker in the known universe.
This being said, when someone finds out that they were lied to, trust and sometimes friendships can break. I was fortunate to have friends that love you like the brother you never had and they forgave me. But those bastards will never fucking forget. Assholes.
Although I rarely watch network television or much live TV anymore, I don’t live under a rock. Brian Williams has been my friend since the war on Iraq. He was there before me and he earned my respect. It wasn’t until I was nearly 25 years old and five years after Williams was there, that I raised my right hand. I saw war much the same way as Brian did, tense but largely uneventful even though we both went looking for work.
It’s sad that a book and film like Jarhead doesn’t get much street cred despite how accurate of an account it is. I wonder if Brian Williams saw this film because if he had, he would not have regaled us with his tall tales of war.
Ultimately, Jarhead is a piece of entertainment media and is trying to deliver a specific and targeted message. When Brian Williams is sitting in the chair as anchor for the most watched program on television, he is a journalist and ethics must apply. Unfortunately for Mr. Williams, he placed little emphasis on ethics and indulged us with his epics.
The message must be the facts. A well paid, educated, and experienced journalist knowingly lied to us, his viewers, his only remaining friends.
Brian doesn’t have too many friends in the journalistic community anymore and that’s expected. He may never be a journalist again and he may completely remove himself from the limelight. He may not. He’ll probably be a professor of ethics at a prestigious school, whenever he decides to call it a career, if ever.
Logical and reasonable deduction
Brian Williams needs the public to forgive him. Or in the words of who knows how many, we need to get over it. It is imperative of the American viewing public to understand that if you trust our mega media outlets as a source of empirical truth, your gullibility is outsized only by your ignorance.
We need to look at ourselves in the mirror and acknowledge that Brian Williams isn’t evil. His lack of hubris caught up to him. We need to accept that these fallacies were allowed by NBC when they trusted Brian Williams credibility more than the service members who were actually blown the fuck up.
The NBC organization lied to us as well and the gig is up. NBC only cared about the numbers and so long as Williams produced stories that were too good to check, only the number of nightly viewers that tuned in mattered. NBC has jizz on their face and need the American viewing public to provide the towel. The only way we can do this, is to allow Williams and NBC to own up to their misdeeds.
A formal written and public apology from both NBC and Williams, with acknowledgment that a misremembering is the same as a lie. Williams was allowed to lie to us with NBC approval and all we ask is that they apologize and then the show will go on. Because it must. And we will forgive Brian Williams begrudgingly but deservedly so.
Through it all, the now late David Carr said it best:
“We want our anchors to be everywhere, to be impossibly famous, globe-trotting, hilarious, down-to-earth, and above all, trustworthy. It’s a job description that no one can match.”
A job description even Brian Williams could not match.