My own take is that Brian Williams’ ego got the better of him.
Not a one of us is immune from that particular weak spot, but there are those more susceptible to it than others. Those who are in the spotlight, subject to the approval/disapproval of everyone watching, their “ratings” gauged on a daily basis, and their performance judged solely on what it elicits in terms of product, profit or program are, perhaps, more prone to the evils that a rioting ego can spin out. It happens all the time, and not just to rock star newscast personalities. Sometimes it is intentional; sometimes it is not. But in the ego-gone-mad’s wake is always a wide circle of debris, most of it typified in the chatter and finger-pointing and blame-casting of the masses.
I studied some journalism in college, and the part of me that really appreciated the lessons I learned about authenticity and honesty and storytelling is outraged that Mr. Williams took the immense privileges of his profession and skewed them such that a media circus now has center stage. Especially so when he stands on the shoulders of so many who took/take the calling of journalism seriously.
Still…the thought that I’ve repeatedly had since the news of Mr. Williams’ false reporting broke is this: Damn. We sure do love a scapegoat in these United States of America.
Two things have really brought this home for me, the first is something I’m going to loosely paraphrase from a pretty salty John Stewart quote (i.e., he used some language that would’ve made my Nana shake her head in disapproval so I’ll refrain out of deference to my readers and their diversity). He said something along these lines–that Brian Williams will never again mislead the United States about being shot at in a war that we likely wouldn’t have been in to begin with had the same level of media scrutiny been applied to the actual lead-up to and the war itself. I heard another sound byte proclaiming that Brian Williams is not the first person to lie about Iraq–he’s just the first person to get caught for lying about Iraq.
I am making no excuses for Mr. Williams. I have a dearly loved cousin who is an Iraq war vet, and I am deeply grateful for his service. I stand in support of our military no matter what I may think about any given military conflict. But do you see what I mean? Nevermind the political posturing, the grandstanding, the constant bickering and manipulating in Congress about the Middle East…let’s let them say and do what they will…but Brian Williams? Let’s definitely destroy him, Tweet by Instagram by snarky sound byte by acerbic commentary. Let’s point our collective and judgmental fingers at him and shame him until our ammunition runs out.
That’ll make it all better.
I read this morning about a similar event. You can read it about it in full on your own, but essentially its the story of Justine Sacco, former senior director of corporate communications for IAC (InterActiveCorp), who, on an international flight to South Africa, tweeted a series of travel snark. Thanks to the worst side of the interwebs, one of those tweets, taken entirely out of context and without any thought to what she actually might have meant, destroyed her career at IAC and left her scrambling to hang on to any remnant of professional success or personal stability. Her tweet was, perhaps, in poor taste, but the response to it was even more so–social media bullying and public shaming, such that her life has never been the same.
She made a mistake, to be sure. So did Brian Williams. But y’all…really?!? Glass houses and rocks come to mind. And apparently we don’t mind shattering walls.
In case it isn’t clear, my point is this–not a one of us is immune to poor judgment, massive mistake, grand misstep or ill-spoken thought. And yet we make public sport in this country when others fall on their own swords.
Does it make us feel better? Make us feel more righteous to point how are others decidedly aren’t? Help us feel better about our own perceived failings if we can comment ad nauseum on someone else’s? I sure don’t see any of it making us more whole, more of who we were intended to be, more sensitive or gracious or compassionate. So–what the hell’s it for?
I don’t know–but what I do know is this–when grace is extended in the face of hurt or mistake or brokenness, that’s when there’s room for something new and good to emerge. When we stop with the verbal onslaught of who did what and when and how that’s the worst thing ever, and instead stop, listen, and maybe even ask, “How did this happen?”–that’s when there’s room for mercy to do its mighty redemptive work.
And if there were ever a time in this nation, this world, when we are in need of such redemption, I am fairly certain that (Brian Williams completely aside) right now is it.