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Not the best week for journalism

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Hello once more. I’ve returned from my unannounced and sudden hiatus to discuss yet another issue in the complicated and conflicted realm of journalism. Essentially, three important figures in journalism died in the past week, two literally.

First, Brian Williams, host of the NBC Nightly News, long respected newsman with a penchant for storytelling, for building drama and evoking emotion while remaining as unbiased and unflappable as possible, has been accused embellishing, even lying, about some of his past experiences. After recalling a story that occurred 12 years ago where he flew in a military Chinook helicopter during the 2003 Invasion of Iraq that was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade and forced to land, military members questioned his retelling of the sequence of events. He later admitted he “made a mistake in recalling the events of 12 years ago,” and took himself off the NBC news desk. Of course, as per usual in these situations, it was not enough for the viewers, or for NBC. He has since been suspended for six months from NBC, and all of his past work, particularly his time with Seal Team 6 and in Hurricane Katrina, are now being put in the cross-hairs. If other inconsistencies are found, his career, for all intents and purposes, may be over.

While this happened, CBS news correspondent Bob Simon was killed in a horrible-looking car crash in New York City at the age of 73. While I can’t say I singled Bob Simon out as one of my idols in journalism or writing, a car crash seems a mundane way to go for a man who barely escaped Saigon and the Hanoi offensive in 1972. Then again, he apparently wasn’t wearing a seat belt while being driven around in the livery car, so maybe his balls were just too big for this world in the end.

And the next day, the NEXT DAY people, New York Times columnist David Carr dies of currently unknown causes at 58. Carr was someone I enjoyed reading. He was very forward-thinking early in his career, and he had a bluntness to his writing that I appreciated. Plus, his path to get to where he was, recovering from alcohol and drug addiction the way he did, simply had me rooting for him for years.

In Simon and Carr(funkle) we lost two excellent journalists who were willing to explore the hard topics, be they political or personal. These were two big names in the industry who will not be so easily replaced, and their impact, particularly with Simon’s work in the Vietnam War, cannot be measured. But even with these two deaths, the Eye of Sauron remains on Brian Williams as the world retroactively analyzes his entire career.

When it comes to Williams, I don’t feel like I can say anything one way or another, and I don’t know if I can call incorrectly remembering events that took place 12 years ago a damning lie that should ruin a man’s career. My respect of the man’s past work is still set a bit too high on the pedestal for me to simply rip it down like the Berlin Wall. Besides, there are more than enough studies on memory and how we can misremember the events of a traumatic, emotionally charged occurrence, and its certainly possible this happened here. I have never been one to crucify a person for one mistake; we as human beings can try to be as careful as we can, but mistakes are inevitable. If this is truly a case of incomplete recall, then I believe Williams should be excused, forgiven and allowed to return to the fold and the industry.

But if the scrutiny of his career finds other issues, confirmed examples of embellishing, juxtaposing or flat-out falsehood, then a lot of questions have to be asked. Why were his stories not more scrutinized? Why did it take this long for someone to step out and say something? How far back does this go? And, of course, why?

Fact checking in the industry has been failing for years, and this is hardly the first example of it doing so. But pinning all of the little white lies of journalism on that alone is not enough. The majority of the responsibility for telling a truthful tale falls on the storyteller. And in this instance, it seems Brian Williams has failed. Hopefully, this is the first time this has happened, and it will be a slight blemish on a sterling career, instead of the Jenga piece that brings down the tower.

Written by mlogli

February 14, 2015 at 3:59 pm