I understand why Brian Williams did it.
It came to me as I was standing knee-deep in a hole in my front yard, contemplating the hole that the famous newsman has dug for himself.
We had an emergency at the house we’d just moved into in Jackson. Sewage water had backed up in our tub and showers, and toilets wouldn’t flush. So I made a mayday call for help on Sunday.
The plumbers were impressed with the three-foot-deep hole that exposed the clean-out valve and other parts of our sewage system, like organs on an operating table.
“It’s bad when your shitter don’t work,” said one of the two plumbers.
“Yeah,” I said.
I didn’t dig the hole. My brother-in-law, who really understands how things work around a house, dug every shovelful till he found the problem.
He and my sister-in-law had already left for Memphis. They left behind them that good deed and many more as they helped us settle in.
The other plumber said, “You really saved yourself some money” by digging that hole.
There it was, the opportunity to take credit for something I really hadn’t done. It would’ve been easy.
No big thing. No one would be the wiser.
I could’ve gotten some real-guy points out of it.
But I didn’t claim it. It took just a little restraint to pass on the temptation.
Brian Williams didn’t pass. He embellished what happened to him in a war zone, Iraq, in 2003.
He said his Army helicopter was hit by enemy fire and had to make an emergency landing in the desert.
Shades of “Black Hawk Down”!
He got beaucoups of real-guy points out of that. Problem was, his copter was an hour behind the damaged chopper and took no hits. He dropped in on the other crew of the other craft and said, guys, what happened?
Along with a steely cool mind (with a turn to see an opportunity for self-aggrandizement), quick wit and lots of hard work, that phony war story no doubt helped him make it to the top of television journalism.
He burnished that image of a regular guy with a lopsided smile (which now seems a smirk) over the years, retelling the story to David Letterman, among others.
But the soldiers who were there knew. The ones whose lives had been on the line resented the liar.
In 2004, a year after the Iraq incident, he was named managing editor of NBC News and anchor, and, as unconfirmed reports have it, recently got a five-year contract at $10 million a year.
Brian dug his own hole, and now he’s having to claim it.
As I write this, the outcome of Williams’ peccadillo, which may be far more than that as details come out, is undecided.
Wait, this just in: a six-month suspension without pay. How can he make ends meet?
In his defense, everybody lies.
But not publicly. And that should be especially true if you’re in the business of reporting the truth.
But that was a war tale, wasn’t it? It wasn’t a news story.
It is now, unquestionably.
And it was a lie from early on.
It was not an honest mistake, which everyone, including journalists, makes.
It was hubris, the kind of pride that goeth before a fall.
» Contact MBJ staff writer Jack Weatherly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 601-364-1016.
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