Tuesday, February 10, 2015


I said a couple of days ago that we seem to be treating Brian Williams "as if he deserves to be in a dock in The Hague." I meant that to be somewhat hyperbolic -- but now we have David Brooks literally invoking the writings of Hannah Arendt and the sermons of Martin Luther King in a column about Williams, and no, he's not joking:
... I do think we’d all be better off if we reacted to these sorts of scandals in a different way. The civic fabric would be stronger if, instead of trying to sever relationships with those who have done wrong, we tried to repair them, if we tried forgiveness instead of exiling.

... many writers -- ranging from Hannah Arendt and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to modern figures like Jeffrie Murphy and L. Gregory Jones — have tried to think hard about rigorous forgiveness, which balances accountability with compassion.

... Martin Luther King Jr. argued that forgiveness isn’t an act; it’s an attitude. We are all sinners. We expect sin, empathize with sin and are slow to think ourselves superior. The forgiving person is strong enough to display anger and resentment toward the person who has wronged her, but she is also strong enough to give away that anger and resentment.

In this view, the forgiving person makes the first move, even before the offender has asked. She resists the natural urge for vengeance. Instead, she creates a welcoming context in which the offender can confess....
Can we stop right there? Here's some of what Dr. King said about forgiveness in a 1957 sermon:
It is impossible even to begin the act of loving one's enemies without the prior acceptance of the necessity, over and over again, of forgiving those who inflict evil and injury upon us. It is also necessary to realize that the forgiving act must always be initiated by the person who has been wronged, the victim of some great hurt, the recipient of some tortuous injustice, the absorber of some terrible act of oppression.
Read the last few words again: "the victim of some great hurt, the recipient of some tortuous injustice, the absorber of some terrible act of oppression." We're talking about King in reference to Brian Williams. Exaggerating a war story is not a "tortuous injustice" or a "terrible act of oppression," not even if you really, really love TV news.

This just confirms my belief that we're lashing out against Williams in a sustained way because we're powerless in the face of real enemies who actually have done serious harm to us. We can't get people who took away all the good jobs, we can't seem to reverse the sense of societal decline, but we can turn Brian Williams into some combination of Hitler and Bull Connor in order to purge our own feelings of powerlessness.

Brooks does thinkwe should forgive Williams and let him get on with his work. But he says Williams must first undergo a "season of shame." After this,
The offended are free from mean emotions like vengeance and are uplifted when they offer kindness. The social fabric is repaired. Community solidarity is strengthened by the reunion.
Jesus, if our "social fabric" and "community solidarity" are predicated on our relations with Brian Williams, we're in worse trouble than we thought.

I'm struck by Brooks's language in this column -- when he's not writing about a "season of shame" for Williams, he's telling us this:
Some sins, like anger and lust, are like wild beasts. They have to be fought through habits of restraint.... Some sins like vanity -- Williams’s sin -- can only be treated by extreme self-abasement.
Shame? Self-abasement? Restraint? Do you get the feeling Brooks already has his tickets for this weekend's opening of Fifty Shades of Grey?


Mark said...

I suspect that Mr. Brooks is laying the groundwork for when some stupendous and offensive error, on his own part, comes to light. Or, maybe he's preparing for when a "Greatest Distortions of David Brooks" retrospective hits a "mainstream" news outlet.

Victor said...


What Mark said.
I can't top that.

mlbxxxxxx said...

I can't really imagine that a bank president who "accidently" took some of his depositors money home would get forgiven and allowed to continue to run the bank. Williams had one job -- to tell the truth about current events. He failed at that job pretty egregiously. He should go. He's not history's greatest monster but he also shouldn't be trusted with the news. The agonizing in the media is not evidence of some deep, unresolved national angst. It is just one more demonstration of the stupidity of our national discourse these days in that we lose perspective on any situation involving a celebrity.

Frank McCormick said...

What Victor says [giggle].

It all smacks of "the lady doth protest too much".

And, too, David Brooks?

Philo Vaihinger said...

You can quote Hannah Arendt as some sort of moral authority if you want.

But while in grad school she became the mistress of her dissertation director, Martin Heidegger.

Let she who is without sin . . .

Ten Bears said...

First, I jest when I ask "Brian who?", as I know all to well Brooks' fellow urine drinker and paid propagandist is. Consider this, though, for the past couple of months the network has been running ads touting Williams' longevity, integrity and the degree of confidence the "American" people have in him in what appears to be a preemptive whitewash of the affair. In light of numerous Reports surfacing of helo pilots approaching the network discrediting Williams' account, I would suggest the network knew all along and this lashing you refer to is naught but the network as well as his contemporaries attempting to salve their ratings amoungst the rubes. It's not about honest or integrity, it's about ratings, marketshare, and narcissism. It's about self preservation, about one of a group of highly paid liars pissing on the whole groups' parade by getting caught and now they are collectively cutting his nuts.

Anonymous said...

"Exaggerating a war story"

Er, no, *lying*, you know, as in telling lies, passing off falsehoods as truth, cheating and tricking your listeners with malice aforethought. And not once but several times and, as I gather, on various different subjects.

So please, can you bring yourself to call a spade a bloody shovel?"!

oc democrat said...

First off. I am thrilled with the increase in comments for your posts. You deserve an increasing readership.

Now, for my Plagerism regarding

“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”
― John Wooden


Brian Williams and O'Reilly © Dave Granlund,Politicalcartoons.com,Bill OReilly, combat, firefight, Brian Williams, Williams, fibs, embellish, lies, enhance, inflate, military, stories, fib, war zone, quotes, mislead, fox, nbc, overstate, dupe, spin zone

Yastreblyansky said...

Naturally Brooks's references to King are bogus anyway. King and Arendt would have disagreed with his general conclusions as much as they would have been startled by their application to poor Brian Williams as the representative of evil in this world.

Anonymous said...

I think the Williams story is both more and less than it seems.

This story published at the WaPo and linked to by Atrios suggests to me that ultimately the story is that Brian Williams isn't very well liked or regarded by his peers. The story at the WaPo is about him telling a story that he never reported about horrible things that supposedly happened around him during Katrina that never actually happened. But these are stories that he told other people - friends, colleagues, etc. - not things that he reported.

It's like people knew eventually he was going to screw up and tell one of these stories publicly and so they've been holding them in reserve waiting - just waiting - for him to finally screw up so they could pounce on him.

I'm not going to shed tears for Brian Williams, but this seems more like cliquish High School bullshit on the part of our media than it is anything else. Reading Brooks's op-ed in that regard his laughable comparisons to MLK and Arendt make a touch of sense - teenagers often over-exaggerate their emotions after all...

Philo Vaihinger said...

It amazes me how high the flames have leaped in the public burning of Williams for this.

Trail balloon for like treatment for Hillary (remember her claims to have been shot at)?

A way of stoking the permanent anger at Obama, particularly given Axelrod's ill-timed claims that O's early public opposition to gay marriage was "bullshit"?

Dark Avenger said...

Hillary immediately apologized for the "under fire" story a day or two after it came out back in 2008. That alone will make the issue a non-starter, even though fools like Philo
Wish it were otherwise.

As for stoking anger at Obama, isn't that the job of Fox News?