I met Brian Williams in person just once. I don’t watch network news, so ten years ago I knew little more about him than his name. Now, remembering his talk, two things stand out: his insistence on his integrity and his easy humor. He told us — journalism students — that impartiality was so important for a reporter that he never advocated for either political party and that even his family didn’t know how he voted. The juxtaposition of his two personas, the serious news anchor and the easy-going comic, made an unforgettable impression on me. Since then, he’s made many appearances with entertainers, showing off his comic talent. Will he exploit both of his personas and figure how to deliver the news in a novel way? It’s been said that Jon Stewart was invited to host “Meet the Press.” Could Williams host the “Daily Show”?
I couldn’t come down on one side or the other about how Williams’s fanciful reporting of his experiences as a reporter should be handled. At first I thought that his saying he was not just in the line of fire in Iraq, but actually fired upon, was a transgression that compromised his integrity, that he really couldn’t continue to report the news from his lofty perch. But I knew that if NBC let Williams go, no one else could take him. His newscasting career would be definitely over. That didn’t seem right or fair.
I knew that his embellishments — all right, lies — were more to aggrandize himself than to distort what he saw and reported, that he had caused no harm to anyone at the time. After being so respected for so many years, was it really necessary for him to pay such a high price for his vanity?
David Brooks, with whom I often disagree, wrote a thoughtful and convincing column today. “There’s something sad in Brian Williams’s need to puff up his Iraq adventures,” he wrote,
and something barbaric in the public response.
A sort of coliseum culture takes over, leaving no place for mercy.
The civic fabric would be stronger if, instead of trying to sever relationships with those who have done wrong, we tried to repair them, if we tried forgiveness instead of exiling.
By forgiving, after a convincing mea culpa by the offender, the critics are actually better off, because the meanness of their vengeance is averted, Brooks reasons. The offender is cleansed by his confession and healing can take place on both sides.
“Being caught is punishment enough,” opined Jon Stewart. Leave it to him to cut right to the core. Why is the press making so much ado about what is nothing compared to its unquestioning acquiescence to the Iraq War? On the same day that NBC announced it was suspending Williams for six months without pay and Stewart announced that he is leaving the “Daily Show,” Stewart commented with heavy irony,
Finally, someone is being held to account for misleading America about the Iraq war. It might not necessarily be the first person you’d want held accountable on that list. But never again will Brian Williams mislead this great nation about being shot at in a war we probably wouldn’t have ended up in if the media had applied this level of scrutiny to the actual f*cking war.
And that’s the truth. We will miss you both. But not for long, I think.