Brian Williams and the “A” Word

Williams_CronkiteI’m a proponent of the word “reality” as opposed to “truth.” Truth is reality viewed through an individual’s filters—it’s just one version of reality. So while the concept of truth may be universal, actual truth is as individual as the person interpreting. My truth differs from your truth.

In the world of news reporting—and politics—one measure of how close we get to a picture of reality is the accountability of those who communicate it to us. And this is a standard that has been sliding.
Historically, news anchors have been trusted to deliver “news” in the form of objective data. Walter Cronkite was everybody’s dad. He cried when Kennedy was assassinated. He leapt up from his chair at “one giant leap for mankind.” He rarely stated or even intimated how we should interpret the data he delivered. And on the odd occasion when he did offer his interpretation, he preceded that declaration with “This reporter feels…”

Recently, news organizations have moved to delivering data twisted to their own agendas. It seems no network is immune, but I’ll use FOX News and NBC News as examples of Right Twist and Left Twist. Every time Fox proposes a solution to some crisis in this country (healthcare, terrorism, community outrage, pick your topic), NBC argues that it would be the most catastrophic response possible.

You’ve seen this before: 20,000 Cubs fans and 20,000 Cardinals fans witness a close play at the plate. To half the stadium, he’s out. To the other half, he’s safe. The umpire makes his split-second decision and half the baseball world is upset. Yet the reality just is. In 2014, Major League Baseball expanded “instant replay” to better replay exactly what happened at the plate.

August 9, 2014…Michael Brown is shot dead by police officer Darren Wilson (reality). “Murder,” cries half the stadium. “Self-defense,” cries the other half. (Filtered in both cases.)

Is there a difference between instant replay in a major-league baseball game and cops carrying cameras? Are we reduced to requiring actual video footage of every occurrence everywhere to be satisfied that the information is unfiltered and our interpretation is accurate?

We didn’t need that when Walter Cronkite was delivering the data. Evening news could be delivered by Cronkite or Eric Sevareid, or even the incisive Edward R. Murrow, and we were comfortable that what we saw was an accurate representation of “reality”…so it became “truth” to us.

Now I’m not so sure it was all that pure even back then. Observing the twists the news delivers today, based on network and even news show sponsors, I’m reminded that networks and shows had sponsors back then, too. And sponsors have always had agendas. But even so, the problem seems to have intensified.

Take Brian Williams. He gets paid (handsomely) by NBC. NBC has sponsors and handlers. Williams doesn’t even write his own copy; it’s written by editors and reviewed by producers. The message, as they say, is crafted.

And Williams has a personal brand. It pays well to be perceived as bigger than one actually is—to be seen as a “hero.” Sells more advertising, too. So a little white lie about looking into the barrel of an RPG can’t hurt, right?

What about politicians? Maybe Bill Clinton “didn’t have sex with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky.” And maybe his wife was sniped at in Bosnia ducking live ammunition. And to be sure, the list spans both sides of the aisle. Gov. Mark Sanford, R-SC; Sen. John Ensign, R-NV; Sen. David Vitter, R-LA; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-GA; one-time Democratic presidential hopefuls John Edwards and Gary Hart; former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, D-NY; Republican former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani; past Gov. David Paterson (D-NY). All had reality issues.

Accountability? These are our leaders…the people we elect to keep our quality of life intact. This reporter considers their infidelity to the truth an indication of a lack of accountability.

If they can cheat and lie to voters, families, and friends about who they’re sleeping with, among other matters, how much of a stretch is it to lie about budgets and campaign funds and deals with foreign nationals?

If Brian Williams can lie to us about being shot at, what else is he lying about?  Has be been lying about?

Blindly believing in and trusting our elected officials and our news sources to make decisions about our lives and well-being is like standing in a soft-bottomed swamp.

Everybody mentioned in this article is human. That means they have filters, and therefore biases, whether or not we’re aware of them and recognize them for what they are. So in receiving news data, I always want to be cautious of my filters and cautious of the deliverers’ filters—to try to see the data only and how it affects me.

 

Pinnochio

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