THIS was a bomb that had been ticking for a while.She has no named sources and no fresh anecdotes, but we'll pay attention because, well, everyone hates Brian Williams, right?
NBC executives were warned a year ago that Brian Williams was constantly inflating his biography. They were flummoxed over why the leading network anchor felt that he needed Hemingwayesque, bullets-whizzing-by flourishes to puff himself up, sometimes to the point where it was a joke in the news division.
But the caustic media big shots who once roamed the land were gone, and “there was no one around to pull his chain when he got too over-the-top,” as one NBC News reporter put it.
It seemed pathological...
But Dowd goes on to undermine the entire fatwa against Williams, even though that's clearly not her intent:
... Social media -- the genre that helped make the TV evening news irrelevant by showing us that we don’t need someone to tell us every night what happened that day -- was gutting the institution further.Right -- and so why are we all being so freaking self-righteous about this? Yes, with great power comes great responsibility, but network anchors don't have great power anymore. Their broadcasts aren't driving the conversation about significant news events -- and even if they were, Williams didn't lie about a news event (the war), he lied about his experiences in that event. So why are we so worked up?
Although Williams’s determination to wrap himself in others’ valor is indefensible, it seems almost redundant to gnaw on his bones, given the fact that the Internet has already taken down a much larger target: the long-ingrained automatic impulse to turn on the TV when news happens.
Although there was much chatter about the “revered” anchor and the “moral authority” of the networks, does anyone really feel that way anymore? Frothy morning shows long ago became the more important anchoring real estate, garnering more revenue and subsidizing the news division. One anchor exerted moral authority once and that was Walter Cronkite, because he risked his career to go on TV and tell the truth about the fact that we were losing the Vietnam War.
But TV news now is rife with cat, dog and baby videos, weather stories and narcissism. And even that fare caused trouble for Williams when he reported on a video of a pig saving a baby goat, admitting “we have no way of knowing if it’s real,” and then later had to explain that it wasn’t. The nightly news anchors are not figures of authority. They’re part of the entertainment, branding and cross-promotion business....
As the late-night comic anchors got more pointed and edgy with the news, the real anchors mimicked YouTube....
For three reasons, one each for the three groups who are driving this.
The left can't do anything about income inequality, can't get Gitmo closed, can't stop drone attacks, can't get Officers Wilson and Pantaleo indicted, can't persuade Liz Warren to run for president ... but the left can now hold Williams accountable for Iraq in a way it can't hold the real villains accountable -- Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, and the rest of that motley crew, along with real media war criminals like Judy Miller.
The right believes that every news organization that isn't overtly conservative is engaged in a conspiracy to destroy America and deny Republicans electoral victories (to the right, those are essentially the same thing). A victory over Williams will be one more battle in the defeat of socialism and the rooting out of treason. If NBC fires Williams, the biggest victory parade will be led by Murdochians.
And, finally, there's the mainstream media itself, which is obsessed with this story out of sheer narcissism -- it's a story about us! it's about what we do! As long as some people are paying attention to the press, the press is going to bask in the attention and engage in endless chin-scratching about media ethics. There's no news judgment involved here. This is a pure ego trip.
Many stories about how the media operates actually are important -- but this is not one of them. No one's understanding of the Iraq War was materially altered by what Williams falsely said. We have his apology, we now have him removing himself from the air for a few days, and there are reportedly investigations under way. Suspend him, fine him, whatever -- but stop treating him as if he deserves to be in a dock in The Hague. Until you show me that he lied about important facts (and no, those floating bodies in Katrina's aftermath don't count, because there's a good chance they were real), I say that this story is a shiny object we've allowed to distract us for too long. And as long as anyone on Fox still has a job, Brian Williams should be very low on any reasonable person's media enemies list.