Brian Williams, Lying, And The Nature Of Sin

I’ve been sicker than a dog and stuck indoors. This has led me to consume far too much media. Forgive me but I must vent.

The kerfluffle du jour involves people claiming to be “shocked shocked” that a news anchor lied. (This “urgent matter” is everywhere. Apparently the murder of a couple thousand innocents and debt larger than ever amassed in the history of man is irrelevant compared to a flake in a suit talking out of his ass on Letterman?)

I call bullshit.

First of all of course the media’s favored pet lied. Secondly lying is for little whiny pussies.

casablancaIn the interest of backstory (in case a reader lives in a cave in Mongolia) I’ll start with the story of Brian Williams. He was an “embedded reporter” who showed up half an hour after a helicopter got shot down. (Thankfully, with no injuries.) Over time it evolved into “his” helicopter got shot down and everyone in his profession decided he was super extra heroic for this experience. It brought him gravitas and career advancement but it was unearned. What have we learned about unearned self esteem in the last few decades? That’s right folks, it’s toxic. In due time (in this case a dozen years or so) the truth came out. He got outed as a lying jackass. In the course of a few weeks a popular fellow has become such a pariah that folks wouldn’t piss on him if he were on fire.

First of all, lets dismiss with the “shocked” nomenclature. It’s schadenfreude and it’s delicious but nobody is surprised. You’d have to be a kool-aid freebasing wingnut to think otherwise. He’s in a profession that lies, that serves a product that is lies, that constructs, initiates, designs, publishes, and sells lies. A system that pats itself on the back with the smug belief that it has pulled one over on the clueless rubes in flyover country; all the while sinking into bankruptcy and irrelevancy. Anyone who thinks network news is trustworthy needs to go back to their Pokemon cards and let the adults talk.

The rest of us have already accepted that the media is an inbred den of hucksterific nimrods; the kind of narcissistic twits that beamed with joy at a “gentleman’s C” in journalism while the rest of were either trying to beat our heads against second order derivatives or making a living on the oil derricks. (OK maybe I just hate communication majors, we’ve all got our biases.)

We’ve felt the media’s lies poured on our faces for decades. That’s why we enjoy watching them burn. To us, virtually anything said by anyone in any media is, has been, and will continue to be false and self servingly so, unless and until we can find solid independent verification. Note that I didn’t say their stories “may be” bullshit but “are likely” to be bullshit. As in, more often than not. As in I’m surprised their lungs don’t implode from spewing such sustained inaccuracy. By now anyone who’s get their head screwed on right wouldn’t trust the media even if they said the sky is blue. They’d go outside and check for themselves. (Which, come to think of it, is a fine way to live.) It would be better for us all if we quit pretending there was such a thing as trustworthy media.

But that’s not what interests me. What fascinates me is how the tragedy unfolded perfectly. It happened with clockwork precision, on time, in order, and as it should. Williams is a perfect little one many tragedy.

Anyone who’s read tragedy knows exactly what happens and in exactly what order. Read Greek tragedy or Shakespearean tragedy or whatever other such story strikes your fancy. It’ll be Brian Williams; spot on. Tragedy is not about Oedipus’ hot mom or Hamlet’s issues with royal succession. It’s the intersection of what’s right and wrong and how the mighty fall. Those ancient themes matter because we’re all human and we all face the same decisions. It’s tempting to do wrong and wind up with your head in your ass. Tragedy reminds us not to go there. Today’s loser is a suit wearing tool from television. Tomorrow’s loser might be a race huckster, a politician, a preacher, a thief, or that bitch in the HOA down the block. It’s the same story. They fall prey to temptation, indulge in hubris, fail to behave in an appropriate manner, and the miserable ending chapter, the denouement, is appropriately unpleasant.

In this case, as in the case of all good tragedies, it’s William’s own failures that brought about his downfall. That’s what makes it so special. Williams brought this on himself and we, had we seen the story printed in a novel, would have spent the ensuing chapters screaming at him; “don’t do it dumbass”.

Once the ball got rolling he still could have stopped it. He didn’t. What a chickenshit. We all aim higher. Most of us make it. Life ‘aint easy but sometimes the right path is crystal clear and we’ve generally got the balls to take it.

Suppose Williams stepped off the plane after his fateful trip and said “No, no, it wasn’t I that was on that helicopter. Heavens no. I had a delightfully uneventful trip and am glad of it”. So what? Nobody gets fired for not getting shot down. Maybe he’d have had a slightly less stratospheric career arc. Maybe not. Regardless, when he failed to tell the true and correct story he fucked himself. That’s not a new thing. It’s the oldest of man’s moral conundrums.

For a dozen years he let it fester, let it grow. He could have ended it at any time. On Letterman (years ago) he could have made the right call: “Gee Dave, I took credit for being on that helicopter but that was a dick move and I shouldn’t have done it. Things really didn’t go down that way. Also I cheated on a history test in college, accidentally killed my wife’s geranium, and dented a rental car in Albuquerque but blamed it on the parking attendant.” So what if he had? There’d have been a bit of a scene. Letterman might have given him some shit. Maybe he’d listen to a few zingers comparing him to Dan Rather of a decade before.  But hey, you gotta’ take your lumps and then he’d be right with the universe.

He didn’t. Time passed. Each year makes it harder to retreat. At each retelling the story becomes more heroic. I for one think that’s the true heart of tragedy. A lie, whether large or small does not fade, it remains. Who knows what it feels like to have that on one’s shoulders? Does one simply feel hollow and dull? Does one lose sleep at night? Is a big salary worth it? Do they eventually believe their own bullshit?

I wouldn’t know. For the most part I’ve been pretty honest. So honest, in fact, that it pisses people off. I can live with that. It’s not particularly hard either. The minute something goes down, that single fucking instant, you come clean. “Hell yeah officer, I had the pedal down, gimme’ a ticket and I’ll pay the bitch.” “You’re right fellas, I went fishing and caught jack shit so I’m not awesome like all you guys. I’ll try again next week.” “I went hunting and got a freezer full of doe but nothing worthy of taxidermy and I’m happy with that. Suck it bubba.” Or my all time favorite; “I tore this damn tractor engine down three times and the son of a bitch still won’t start. Also I hired some drunk who set it on fire. I should have my tools seized and stay away from anything that has a piston.” Humility is a good thing and the truth really does set you free.

It’s the opposite of tragedy. It’s honesty. Fate might some day chew my ass into dust but it won’t be because I lied. Unlike the bobbleheaded media, I’m not dumb enough to think I’m beyond the truth.


About Adaptive Curmudgeon

I will neither confirm nor deny that I actually exist.
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11 Responses to Brian Williams, Lying, And The Nature Of Sin

  1. Mark Matis says:

    For the most part I’ve been pretty honest.

    So you’re saying you actually told Momma what REALLY happened to that cat???

    And you expect us to believe you…

  2. cspschofield says:

    I’m right with you, except for one thing. It’s something I’ve been banging on about for a long time, so pardon me if I start to rant.

    The News Media is getting a lot of scorn from people who have woken up to its fundamental lack of saintliness. A lot of this is deserved. But some of it, frankly, is the outrage of a girl who didn’t “know” that banging the high school quarterback might have a downside.

    The Liberal Intellectual Radical Progressives (LIRPs) who took over the news business sold us on the idea that the News Media should be “Unbiased”. This was always ridiculous. As ridiculous as “I’ll pull out, honey”. First off, nobody con ever report on anything without having a bias. Not possible. No human being can report all the data involved in any situation, even if any audience would sit still for it. Decisions about what to include will have to be made. Those decisions will necessarily be informed by the ideas of the reporter.

    But, beyond that basic fact, no news service has the TIME to be accurate. to do the research to find out who is lying, and what the facts are. And this isn’t new. It wasn’t new in H.L. Mencken’ day. It wasn’t new in the days of the Roman Republic.

    What is new, having happened largely in my lifetime, or at least the lifetimes of myself and my Parents (who were born in the ’20’s), is the idea that a News Media COULD be accurate for archival standards and free of bias.

    It is part of the myth that there was a day when every town of any size supported multiple newspapers. At least by Mencken’s time, this was largely bushwa. Mencken makes it clear that Baltimore had ONE financially secure newspaper (discounting special cases, like the German Language papers that thrived there before WWI). That paper was solvent, at least in part, because it held the government printing contracts for the city of Baltimore. The other paper(s) were supported as publicity organs for political; factions not presently in power. Everybody smart enough to be allowed out off of a leash knew that all the papers had points of view, and either read the paper they agreed with (and knew what they were doing, on some level) or read more than one paper.

    I have been listening to Conservatives and Libertarians whine about “media bias” all my adult life. And the idea that the LIRP media was going to rectify the situation was always absurd. Now, the Conservatives and Libertarians HAVE been doing the right thing; getting media with THEIR bias out there. But whining about media bias and reporters lying is a nonstarter. Reporters are storytellers. They tell tall tales. MENCKEN told tall tales. What is wrong is that wee have developed the deranged expectation that THEY WON’T. The Media is GOING to have bias. Don’t like it? Get your own bias out there or stop whinging (which you are doing, right here).

    What we should be outraged about is reporters lying in such a dull manner. There aren’t that many reporters who lie entertainingly. There are no Menckens, no Damon Runyans (he started as a reporter). The NYTs is a titanically DULL paper, which is a much worse sin that that they are a bunch of pinko nitwits. They have BECOME dull, in an effort to sell the absurdity of “Unbiased”.

  3. richardcraver says:

    You may be feeling lousy, but your vocabulary is kicking. I know Gravitas; but pariah, schadenfreude and denouement sent me scrambling for Google. However you created an interesting new word, hucksterific, which when Googled comes right back to Curmudgeon’s page; I like it.
    Well done sir.

    • I invented my own word and Google acknowledges it? That’s fabulous. I should quit while I’m ahead.

      You ought to see what happens when I try to talk text to speech… it nukes the software. (“En route” is a pet peeve. Sure it’s technically French but I claim it’s Americanized. It applies when you’re travelling by big ugly truck. Is that not as American as you can get? “Hey bubba, I’m en route to the catfish fry but will be late because WalMart had a sale on ammo.” <— Not French!)

      • Matt says:

        Not to mention it’s used by soldiers everywhere. En route to the LZ; En route to the chow hall; hell, even en route to the rack. That isn’t French, they don’t have those things. They have running away zones (RAZs) and stuff.

  4. rapnzl rn says:

    Whether or not you are under the weather, this post is a keeper, AC. As the historians for future generations, we know there are always those who will search for the truth….or, at the very least, we are courageous enough to hope so.

  5. PJ says:

    Right on target. It’s a big laugh when a journalist major goes on about “objectivity” and “fact checking”. BTW Ilana Mercer came up with a nice term for TV news anchorettes: “teletart”.

    As to honesty, I agree, it’s just easier to be honest. Who wants to carry around a pack of lies all the time, trying to keep them all consistent? For what end? It’s also more entertaining to tell the truth, because nobody expects it.

    I have a recurring fantasy of listening to a candidate’s debate (something I would never do any more) and listening to the whoppers coming out, then while standing in the back, now and then calling out “Liar!” or sotto voce, “What a load of horse shit…”

  6. PJ says:

    “I went hunting and got a freezer full of doe but nothing worthy of taxidermy and I’m happy with that. Suck it bubba.”

    One other thing. Why not have a taxidermist do a doe’s head for you? Nice to have that up on the wall, then you don’t even have to say “Suck it bubba.”

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