by Kaitlyn Nicolai
I was perusing my Twitter feed this afternoon and came across a link to a CNN article; the title itself threw me through a loop: 52% Say Brian Williams Should Be Allowed Back On NBC. As I read further, statistic after statistic was thrown in, further explaining how a majority of people have faith in the restoration of William’s credibility and assurance that the punishment he received was just.
I understand that this was not a nation-wide poll; surely only a small margin of the population happened to stumble upon it. I understand that he is a very well-known public figure, and that to many people he is still a respected journalist. I understand that everyone has a right to their own opinion – and I am not a person to jump down someone’s throat because they won’t agree with me.
But I simply cannot be a part of this majority – as a future journalist and as an avid consumer of the news.
Just to refresh everyone’s memory, let’s recap on what has been happening with this story. Brian Williams, lead anchor for NBC Nightly News, was caught lying about a plane he had ridden over ten years ago as a reporter for Dateline during the Iraq War. He claimed to have been on an RPG that was shot down; his story changed over the years concerning both the severity of the situation and the events in question. In reality, the chopper he was in was not shot down; it is most likely that Williams landed nearby to a helicopter that had crashed already, and Williams embellished his presence in said aircraft.
So, to be more concise: he lied.
And why? At the time of this report, Williams was already a well-respected journalist; why else would he be in that chopper in the first place? Although I don’t agree with the conclusion of this recent article from the Huffington Post, it does point out some interesting facts about an individual’s tendency to lie - which is, believe it or not, something we do daily. The article discusses this with a list of reasons why people lie, from a variety of psychological studies.
As I read this list, I found myself keeping track of what Williams was untruthful about. I went down the list, trying to fit him into one of these categories so that I could understand why he did what he did. Maybe I could find a way to trust him again. Then, the article ended with this statement: “Should we trust Brian Williams again -- not the cultural icon or the commentator, but the man? Probably no more or less than the person looking back at you in the mirror every morning.”
This reasoning was not something I could get behind. Yes, Brian Williams probably tells just as many lies as any normal person does on a daily basis. But this does not change the fact that Williams is – was – a high-profile reporter whose job was to inform the public of what is going on in the world. His job was to give us the facts and allow ourselves to interpret them as we like. He is not just any normal person. He, as a journalist, is held to a much higher standard than most people are when it comes to the truth. Essentially, his job is truth. He, up until ten days ago, reported to millions of people what was going on in our world. He misled a society who sought him for the truth. That is a very strong, tenuous bond, one that journalists grasp onto every day of their lives. And Brian Williams let that slip through his fingers.
So, when his six-month suspension is up, how will we be able to trust him again? How will we be able to look at his face on our television screens, going about our daily lives, and accept any word that comes out of his mouth without question? He lied about a very sensitive time in our history – who’s to say he won’t do it again? Who’s to say he hasn’t done so more than once?
So many other nations go through this hell every day. Facts are misrepresented and distorted, allowing people of those nations to have a marred representation of what the world looks like. But the United States has a very long history of informing people of the world around them, so long as it is not a lie. That’s libel.
And this very libel is why I don’t think I can blindly trust Brian Williams again. I can only hope that the punishment will fit the crime.
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