David Michael Miller
For those of you who don't know who Brian Williams is, he does what Jon Stewart does, only Williams is serious when he does it.
Judging by the commercials, virtually everyone who watches the network news shows has reached the age of being obsessed with the amount of fiber in their diet or their ability to get out of bed in the morning without pain, or to get up at other times for other reasons. There's also a great deal of concern about "COPD," and even I don't know what that is.
So, I can understand why a large part of America, upon hearing that the longtime NBC Nightly News anchor had been suspended for six months for lying, might have shrugged. For those of us who do care (and I only care mildly), the whole incident has a lot more to say about the general overreaction to trivia -- while we discount serious stuff -- than it does about Williams.
To recap the story, Brian Williams was the most popular of the three major network anchors. Before taking over the news reading job, he had been a war correspondent for NBC, among other reporting assignments. He apparently got such a big kick out of being a war correspondent, and it was such a large part of his ego, that he embellished his harrowing stories to make them even more breathtaking. The story that brought him down was one in which he claimed to have been aboard a helicopter during the invasion of Iraq in 2002 when it was struck by enemy fire. It turned out that it wasn't his chopper that was hit, but the one in front of him.
If that doesn't strike you as the worst lie ever told, well, it doesn't light much of a fire under me either. It's not as if the guy said that he had grabbed an AK-47 from a wounded soldier and bravely returned fire at Saddam Hussein's troops. Basically, Williams just claimed to have been more of a victim than he actually had been.
But there followed what has become the routine firestorm of Internet outrage over Williams' tall tale. Williams apologized, but, again predictably, his apology was deemed not sincere enough. The next step in this well-worn process is that everything the guy has said since he claimed to have saved a puppy as a teenager (he really has said he did that) has come under scrutiny. More fibbing is being breathlessly uncovered as we speak. No evidence has surfaced yet that he was untruthful about anything that counts as actual news.
In the meantime, Gov. Scott Walker plainly lied about what was clearly his personal attempt in his state budget proposal to strip the Wisconsin Idea from the law of our land. That controversy is fading, and Walker continues to be a viable candidate for president, while Williams will likely never work in television, at least in his previous lofty capacity, again.
Maybe we hold journalists to higher standards of honesty than politicians, but it seems to me that the amount of damage that a man as powerful as Walker could do by lying about something so significant as the Wisconsin Idea is a whole lot scarier than a news anchor padding his resume of wartime victimhood.