Part 1—With application to others: Increasingly, NBC’s Brian Williams seems like a bit of a nut.
In interviews—largely not on news programs—he has made an array of peculiar statements down through the years.
These statements tend to have a bit of a Walter Mitty feel. They seem designed to heighten our sense of Williams’ heroism and moral greatness in the face of suffering and personal danger.
Talk about sufferin’ down below! Williams has seen rivers:
He has seen, or perhaps hasn’t seen, someone jump to his death in the Superdome during Hurricane Katrina.
He has seen, or maybe not seen, a body, or perhaps a number of bodies, floating outside his hotel during that same ordeal.
At one point, he slipped and fell in the Superdome, landing flat on his back. Needless to say, this allowed him to spot, or perhaps not to spot, a small hole in the Superdome’s roof as he looked up from his nasty fall—a small hole which later became a major structural problem.
To judge from the way he told that story, he may have been, or may not have been, the first person to spot that small hole.
How bad did things get during Katrina? In 2005, Williams accepted a Peabody Award for his reporting during that crisis. His acceptance speech was characteristically humble.
(There’s an obvious strain of Uriah Heep in Williams’ peculiar public statements. In a masterful strain of humble-bragging, Mitty and Heep tend to join hands as he makes his peculiar claims.)
Back to Williams’ humble statement as he humbly accepted his award. Early in the statement, he sounded perhaps a tiny bit crazy as he listed the names of a lot of little people—names which should have appeared next to his on the trophy he held.
First names only! To watch this statement, click here:
WILLIAMS (5/16/05): ...And finally, names like Matt, the Jefferson parish police sergeant who, at the depth of things, found me on a mattress in a hotel stairwell and brought me back and got me back to work.Say what? “At the depth of things,” a policeman found Williams on a mattress in a hotel stairwell? This policeman brought Williams back and got him back to work?
Brian’s voice seemed to break as he reached the words “hotel stairwell.” Meanwhile, what was Williams doing, at the depth of things, on a mattress in a hotel stairwell in the first place?
There may be, or may not be, a good explanation for that strange-seeming report. On another occasion, we’ve been told that Brian’s “five-star hotel” (it was the Ritz-Carlton) was “overrun with gangs” during this ordeal.
Williams saw, or possibly didn’t see, those gangs overrun that hotel. And these are just the peculiar statements he has made about Katrina. It was his inaccurate statements about Iraq which created the current flap.
Make no mistake—the inaccurate statements about Iraq have sometimes been carefully staged and planned. The intended messaging has sometimes been quite plain.
In March 2013, Williams told his story about Iraq on the David Letterman show. The story lasted about five minutes.
To watch the story in its entirety, click here. The story starts around the 2:20 mark.
Rather plainly, Williams’ appearance this night was built around his telling of The Story. It was the tenth anniversary of the event. Williams brought a photograph of himself out in the desert with an American soldier.
There’s nothing automatically “wrong” with telling such a story. But if you watch Williams telling The Story that night, you will see several groaning misstatements—and you’ll see a story which has been crafted to increase our awe about Williams’ obvious moral greatness.
Letterman didn’t thank Williams for his service, but he came pretty darn close. Like his hair, Williams’ humble-bragging was perfect.
But uh-oh! On this occasion, Williams somehow got it into his head that the pilot of his helicopter “took a Purple Heart injury to his ear in the cockpit” during the dangerous attack which didn’t actually happen. He also told a strange-seeming story about the sandstorm which forced his team to hunker down in the desert for three days.
The sandstorm was real. Did the rest of this peculiar-sounding story actually happen?
WILLIAMS: [Bradley fighting vehicles and Abrams tanks] surrounded us for three days during the sandstorm that was so big it suspended the war effort. It was called Orange Crush. And they got us out of their alive.Really? Williams was missing in a war zone for three days. In response, NBC sent his wife and his kids to a fancy hotel in Florida “to keep their minds off it?” And they actually went?
LETTERMAN: You were on the ground, in combat, for three days?
WILLIAMS: Yeah—unbeknownst to anyone back here. NBC sent my wife and children to The Breakers in Florida to keep their minds off it and keep them occupied because no one knew where we were. We couldn’t be in touch.
Everything is possible! But that sounds strange to us.
“I have to treat you now with renewed respect. That’s a tremendous story,” Letterman said as Williams ended his recitation this night.
Uriah Heep responded to that, as you can see on that tape. But anyone with an ounce of sense will understand an obvious fact:
Williams told that five-minute story for an obvious reason that night. He told the story to generate that fawning statement from Dave, who was happy to give it.
Does any of this self-serving foolishness actually matter? Not necessarily, no! If a journalist does outstanding work but sometimes enters Mitty mode, the caliber of his actual work would still stand on his own.
That said, Williams doesn’t do outstanding work; on the whole, neither does his team at NBC News. And his silly reinventions-of-self have been going on for a very long time now.
His reinventions date way back. They constituted a work in progress well before the start of the war in Iraq.
The liberal world has tolerated this self-serving conduct from Williams, and from other big stars, every step of the way. We’ve even tolerated the selling-of-self from brand names in upper-end liberal journalism, not excluding the increasingly peculiar Nicholas Kristof.
In our reports about the fog of war which has invaded Brian’s songs, we’ll also discuss the selling-of-self which increasingly seems to pervade Kristof’s somewhat peculiar work.
PBS viewers, did you understand what Kristof did with that weeping child in Haiti? Frankly, we still do not. We sometimes wonder about the actual empathy and compassion—and journalism—of this exalted man.
(For background, see our next post.)
We’ve warned you for years about wealth and fame, about what “journalists” will do to obtain them. In our view, Williams has played a dishonest, sometimes destructive game as he has seemed to grab for the golden rail.
But then again, so have quite a few of our leading “liberal” journalists. The liberal world has accepted this crap every step of the way, to the sands of Iraq and beyond.
Are we “too dumb to be self-governing?” We’ll report these matters all week. Incomparably, you can decide.
Tomorrow: Revisiting one of Brian's songs in the run-up to Iraq