Please hear me out. This may be controversial or not. But, it isn’t political. I know he lied. I know that is the cardinal sin of journalism. Here’s the thing: I don’t think he’s the real problem, and if he isn’t the real problem, firing him is putting a Band-Aid on Ebola. It looks like we are doing something, but it’s not something useful. It’s closing the pasture gate after the herd has already escaped. I think the herd escaped a decade ago. Here’s why:
- Truth is a much larger concept than the literal accuracy of remarks made during a network news broadcast, or anywhere else. Part of living in truth is acknowledging the realities of the world in which we live today. Brian Williams’ comments are merely a symptom of a long- standing epidemic, and the causes and effects of this disease are myriad, including his own network, which is fleeing from him as if from leprosy. NBC, of course, did not know that the now infamous war story wasn’t true. But, they did know that part of the reason Williams had such big ratings was that he straddled the line between straight journalism and entertainment and did it very well. He had huge name recognition. He was a regular on the talk show circuit. I started watching the evening news on his channel because I saw him being hilarious somewhere else. That is the truth.The truth is that the words investigative and journalism no longer appear in the same sentence with any regularity.
The truth is I am technically a registered Republican, but I was and am a loyal Jon Stewart fan because he refuses to let guests cling to their talking points, and yet he manages to question them congenially, without all the vitriol. He maintains respectful friendships with those he criticizes most. That shouldn’t be a rare art, but the truth is that today it is indeed rare.
- The truth is we can see falsity packaged as “ truthiness” on TV news at any time. “Truthiness” can be literally true in the specific words that are said, and still missing key relevant facts, depending on who is telling the story. Reporting some facts while omitting others: is that completely honest? Blending news and entertainment to produce the mutation called Infotainment: is that truth in journalism? Is it journalism?
Just at random, I decided to watch Good Morning America last week for it’s content. It was an entertaining blend of weather, celebrity news, vine videos and reports on ISIS. I made the same notes on the network evening news: one third weather, one-third ISIS, and the rest was “news.” Into this mix, entered Brain Williams. He had huge viewership partially because he was also a personality; we knew him and liked him. Now, his employer is acting like he didn’t enter this arena with their permission and encouragement. BS. It’s about both ratings and truth, as long as there is competition for viewers and advertising dollars.
- There is a beautiful gift in this set of circumstances because of what it reveals: We want the news to be real, fact based, investigative, journalism again. We didn’t know it until now, but we really, really miss it.
Let’s revel in this moment because it points to the solution, and there is one.
- The cure invites action on all of our parts. We can actively seek out and support our true independent news sources, whatever our political persuasions, wherever they may be. We can each become advocates of the truth. There are independent, investigative journalists out there working for newspapers, online periodicals, and other venues. They rely on donors, like us. They are independent because they do not rely on advertising revenue from big corporate sponsors. We don’t live in a world where there is a single source for news delivered to us as we sit at our dinner tables anymore. ~
Here’s the thing: he lied. I am in no way excusing that fact, but can we all tell the truth? Omitting news is also being dishonest. Telling part of the story is lying. Pandering to the powerful isn’t completely honest. We live in a topsy-turvy world where a whole generation gets their news from a fake news show and is mourning the loss of its host. I recently had the opportunity to very briefly meet Lizz Winstead, the co- creator of The Daily Show, and she schooled me a little bit, as I needed to be. I was lamenting the loss of Stewart, and she reminded me that he isn’t the only place to go where stories and facts are investigated, questioned and verified. It just might require a little more effort on my part now, and not be as funny.
Let’s forgive Williams, and if he does it again, he’s gone. Meanwhile, let’s take this opportunity to become more actively engaged in the search for and reporting of the truth.
Whatever our political beliefs, we can find independent sources of truth, balance, and accuracy in journalism and support them financially, read them, watch them and talk about them, so they can live to report another day.