If you had asked me a few weeks ago for a list of news reporters I most respected, the list would have been a long one. From Anderson Cooper to Soledad O’Brien, I could have gone on for a while. But now the list is one name shorter. I have completely lost respect for Brian Williams.
Even if Brian Williams had only lied once, which, sadly, has been proven to not be true, it still would have cast a shadow of doubt over his whole career. Which makes me wonder: was it worth it? Is it worth it to lie one time — or “exaggerate” as most people are calling it — just for the sake of seeming more important and interesting? If Brian Williams had simply told the truth the first time, he would still be anchoring the evening hours. It would not have been a particularly interesting story but interest should not take precedence over truth.
It’s widely known that journalists in the United States are held to a higher standard. They are the ones who are trusted to tell the American people what is going on in both the country and the rest of the world.
That is why it is such a big deal that Brian Williams did what he did. Politicians, who are arguably as much public figures as news reporters such as Williams, lie all the time. There are some that are simply associated with the word. This difference between the treatment of dishonesty in the two fields creates a double standard of usually causes people to begin to debate if journalists should no longer be held to the higher standard.
If someone questions if journalists should be held to a higher standard they also question the need for freedom of the press. The First Amendment was created for a reason and to make it okay for journalists to lie would make it seem like the integrity of the news isn’t necessary.
When it was created, the First Amendment was to protect the people from having their governments restrict what can be reported. But if journalists start changing what is reported to the people, is it really that different?
Brian Williams is a fantastic storyteller. He has charisma and is highly intelligent. But he has that in common with another disgraced journalist: Stephen Glass, the so-called “boogeyman” for journalism students everywhere.
Both men were above-average writers, they both reached a respectable amount of fame in their fields, and they both lied.
Stephen Glass, if you are not familiar with him, was a rising star at “The New Republic” until 1998 when it was discovered that half of his articles were fabrications.
His story is pretty similar to Williams’ since after the first discovery that Williams had lied, the scandal has snowballed. More and more things that Williams has said have been discovered to be false, just like Glass.
What I wonder is why Williams and Glass couldn’t have just become authors instead of journalists. It could have saved everyone a lot of trouble.
Some may try to justify Williams’ actions by saying that the goal of a journalist is to reveal the truth — and that it really doesn’t matter if he actually was in the helicopter that was hit by an RPG or there the day the Berlin Wall came down. Leave these “truths” to fiction writers, who are better at conveying them anyway. For a journalist, facts cannot be manipulated into greater truths, no matter how compelling that truth may be. The truth matters — it has to — or the First Amendment is just one more lie.