Let’s be honest, the truth doesn’t matter anymore. It’s nice and quaint, even cute, to pretend it does, but it really doesn’t. Brian Williams’ fake war stories are not an outlier or even a blow to his credibility. They’re the new norm.
Williams, the NBC News anchor and managing editor, had no reason to lie. When Williams inflated his own experiences in Iraq in 2003 he was acting like someone in the midst of an interview trying to live up to an inflated resume. But he had the job already. He was merely trying to inflate his image and impress his audience. Now he’ll have six months without pay (a cool $5 million) to reflect on his decisions.
The puzzling part of Williams’ lying is just how unnecessary it was. He went to Iraq in 2003 and embedded with the troops. That he didn’t come under the fire is not a strike against him. It was luck – good luck.
Deploying to a war zone to cover a war is brave. Brian Williams did that. That he didn’t nearly die, or even come close to combat, is nothing to feel inadequate about. Yet Williams felt the need to inflate the risk he took, possibly because many of his colleagues did actually come under actual fire or were injured or killed covering the war. Or perhaps he’s simply a fabulist.
Whatever the reason, Williams is not alone in ignoring the truth when it comes to biography or belief. And NBC News isn’t unique in its rewarding of those who bastardize honesty in the interest of self-aggrandizement.
The president of the United States lied about his stance on gay marriage in 2008 to win. His staff knew it. The media knew it. No one bothered to call him out on it. No one on Obama’s campaign team had the character to resign or even leak the fact that he was lying because they cared only about winning. The ends and means and all that.
Obama would have won anyway, which makes his lie a lie for its own sake. But at least he was trying to get a job; Williams already was at the pinnacle of his profession.
While NBC News investigates other allegations of lying against Brian Williams, it’s important to remember that this is the news organization that hired Al Sharpton – a man who works in lies the way van Gogh worked in paint. In fact, were it not for lies the world would have never heard his name and he would’ve been forced to find real employment in his adult life (and even pay his taxes).
Yet after Sharpton’s Tawana Brawley hoax, something for which he is still unrepentant, not only was he given a show by NBC News, he’s an unpaid advisor to the president.
With rewards like that, what incentive is there not to lie?
Reality TV shows are all lies. Pre-planned, staged “events” with retakes for the cameras earn untalented people millions of dollars and magazine covers simply by their willingness to make themselves look like asses and make believe it’s real.
The path to power, fame and riches is paved with lies. Talent and diligence can get you there too, but that’s an awful lot like work. Why wait in line with everyone else when you can rent a wheelchair and take cuts at an amusement park? Why work when you can simply file a nuisance lawsuit and get a settlement? Why study when you can cheat?
CNN’s Fareed Zakaria has been exposed as a plagiarist, something that would be the end of a career just a few years ago. As a consequence, Zakaria was suspended for one week. And here I am like a sucker writing original content at a fraction of what he makes.
After making an ass out of himself again at the Grammys, Kanye West said, “The Kardashians wouldn’t be famous if beauty wasn’t important.” The truth is the Kardashians wouldn’t be known at all were it not for Kim’s Internet porn video.
Kanye’s lie is understandable in the sense that he probably doesn’t want to remind himself of his wife’s road to fame. But it’s still a lie. And it’s a lie that has been rewarded with tens of millions of dollars.
These are but a few examples of people who have been rewarded after being exposed as liars. There are countless more.
So what’s the point in not lying? And what’s the point of singling out Brian Williams for punishment when so many of his peers, both professionally and financially, have done similar things? How can you hold an anchorman to a standard the president isn’t held to? Brian Williams may not be the anchorman we want, but he is the anchorman modern society deserves.
If NBC News decides to go through the motions of pretending honesty matters, maybe it should hire soon-to-be former "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart to be its next anchor. If they’re going to make NBC News a joke they might as well go all-in.