Monday, February 09, 2015


Steve Almond thinks Americans are angry at Brian Williams because we feel guilty about our own relationahip to war:
Americans consume more violence -- both real and imagined -- than any other nation on earth. Yet as a population, we move about our daily lives with almost no threat of actual violence from enemies abroad.

We’re a nation of coddled cheerleaders who have offloaded the physical risks of our imperial adventures to a volunteer army consisting mostly of working-class kids. We cheer for them in the same vicarious manner we do the muscled ubermensches who risk brain damage by ritualizing combat on our bright gridirons.

In this sense, what Williams did is merely an exaggerated version of what any of us might do. He got close enough to the action to appropriate the manly courage of his military escorts. This is why his lies so offend us. In vilifying him, we help cleanse ourselves of the hidden shame we feel at sanctifying war while living amid such decadent safety.
I don't think America has that sort of communal guilt -- many Americans have fought in wars, worked in physically demanding jobs, dealt with serious illness, and faced day-to-day economic uncertainty, so I really don't believe a sense of "decadent safety" is universal.

Also, I don't believe that outrage at Brian Williams is universal. My hunch is that many Americans aren't following this story very closely, and even many of those who are don't feel unbridled disgust at what Williams did, though I'll wait for polls to confirm or disprove that.

But I'm intrigued by the idea that those who are lashing out at Williams are trying to purge themselves of guilt.

Almond goes on to write:
To howl about how Brian Williams has a “credibility problem” because of his famous fibs is to miss the true nature of his fraudulence: that he and his team were happy to render the Iraq War as a form of entertainment, a righteous crusade in which badass high-tech G.I. Joes defend the holy Christian homeland by slaughtering and eventually civilizing Islamic savages.
I think the media is trying to expiate guilt by lashing out at Williams -- not guilt at cheerleading for war necessarily, but guilt because so much of what passes for news is sheer fluff.

Some of it is macho fluff, like the Williams war reports. Some of it is human-interest fluff: weather disasters, plane crashes, viral videos of plucky Down's Syndrome kids hitting three-pointers from halfcourt to their classmates' delight. Huge percentages of television news airtime are devoted to this sort of trivial material, even as Americans become more and more ignorant about their government and their world. If anyone is lashing out at Williams out of guilt, maybe it's the press, out of an awareness of how the press has failed America for so many years. Television has long been the nation's preferred medium for the transmission of information, and it's been allowed it to abdicate its responsibilities. And maybe Brian Williams is now the scapegoat.


Victor said...

Our news mediums have failed us.

Maybe they need a ritual sacrifice to cleanse themselves before their next round of stupid bullshit that they'll pass-off as news - and that sacrifice is Williams.

In the olden days, many if not most of our news anchors had actually spent time either serving in, or covering wars - from the actual war zones. During WWII, many of them spent years with the front line soldiers.

Now, the anchor's jet off to some war zone or disaster, dressed in expensive faux military/disaster weather gear, armed with hairdressers, make-up people, and camera crews.

But I don't think sacrificing Williams is enough.

Everyone in the actual news business needs to frag the FOX "news" folks.

After all, our media people have dumbed themselves down to compete with FOX, why not start with them as the sacrifice that'll improve the news around this country?

mlbxxxxxx said...

Why does this have to be more complicated than the fact that a journalist/newsman, whose sole job it is to relay the truth about events, has been caught in a blatant lie that related directly to the events he was supposed to be covering accurately? I think this is being massively over-thought.

Apparently, it turns out Brian Williams is a bit of a fabulist. Fabulism is tolerated in many arenas, in particular, infuriatingly imo, in politics. However, I don't think it can be tolerated within the news business. And it is not unusual for journalists who display fabulistic tendencies to be fired.

Unknown said...

I entered the military in 1964, long before right wingers anointed us sacred cows. This occurred during the Iraq debacle when criticism of Bush/Cheney's idiocy became "attacking the troops", hence troops became saints, even if torturers or indiscriminate civilian killers.

Interestingly, there was a derisive term, "War Story, that was almost universally applied to vet's battle stories...It was literally assumed that embellishment or outright lying was nearly universal.

Brian Williams has had the problem that he went to 3 colleges and reportedly only acquired 18 credits, never graduating. Embellishment via "war stories" from him is actually understandable, though inapproriate.

Philo Vaihinger said...

Almond is a very well paid purveyor of utter bullshit.

This is some of his most smelly best.

Anonymous said...

"decadent safety"? More like 'decadent irresponsibility', I would suggest. And we have an example of it today with Obama and 'apparatchiks' agitating to send arms to the Ukraine. A perfect example of how to put out a fire using petrol!

'mlbxxxxxx', above, sensibly reduces the piffling matter to its essentials - the man is a liar in a profession in which honesty is still expected - even if it is as rare as hen's teeth!

tomy said...

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and so is truth. When we report something as a first hand experience, and use "I" in our story then the listeners expect it to be a truthful accounting of what really happened. Truth can be distorted by emotion and opinion in the heat of a situation, especially when violence and adrenaline are present. Truth then, becomes that which the person believes they experienced while the facts tell a different story. Beauty and truth lay asleep within us.