I am fascinated by the Brian Williams brouhaha. I don’t have television and have probably never seen NBC’s “Nightly News.” I don’t follow war stories. Until the recent flap over “misremembering” his experiences in Iraq, the name Brian Williams met nothing to me.
Williams was the subject of discussion at a recent dinner party. “He lied!” someone said. “No, he didn’t, “ I countered,” because at the time he said it, he believed it.”
“So that excuses it?” she said. “No, of course not,” I replied, “but what you’re talking about is a personality flaw. The man is a supreme egotist. Looking good, sounding good, to someone like that, truth is what ever serves him best.”
I’m interested in the Williams case because I’m interested in human nature. Williams may be an egotist, but he is not slow-witted or stupid. Off camera, he knows that everything he’s ever said before a microphone is part of the public record. On camera, he is simply a performer who knows how to give the public want it wants.
It is not as if Williams’ veracity hadn’t been challenged before, but he is a showman, and a darned good one. NBC overlooked the challenges because Williams was popular and brought in high-paying advertisers. In turn, Williams commanded a salary in the millions.
This is why I don’t have a TV. Today, news is big business and has become entertainment. To a certain extent it always has been, but today with TV’s big screens and high definition, there is a dangerous immediacy to everything one sees and hears. Television is often more real than life itself.
It’s said that seeing is believing, but that simply isn’t true. Firsthand reports are not all that reliable because individual bias operates at every level. It dictates where the news bureau sends it correspondents, where the cameraman points his camera and what the editors decide to do with the information when they get it. Even when we understand this and try to control for it, bias influences our perception.
Of course, this makes me cynical, but it also assures that I am slow to judge. There is always more to the story.
When the shooting in Ferguson, Mo., first made the news, my teenage granddaughter was indignant and ready to take to the streets. It was “wrong, wrong, wrong,” and she was ready to fight. She couldn’t understand my reluctance to blame the offending officer.
Later, when more evidence came out, she was just as upset with the media and the protesters. While I was very proud of her passion for justice and human rights, I wanted her to learn something about herself and the urge to cast judgment.
There’s a lot more to the Ferguson case than the shooting of Michael Brown, no matter who is guilty of what. Young black men are an endangered minority. The country needs to recognize that fact, but we don’t need scapegoats.
However, that’s exactly what’s going on in Washington today. The Republicans blame the Democrats. The Democrats blame the Republicans. Everyone blames President Barack Obama.
I’m an environmentalist. I’m inclined to blame global warming on fossil fuel, but that doesn’t solve anything. Trace the problem back to its origin and it becomes human behavior, mine included.
We want, and we have become addicted to, what fossil fuel gives us. I am writing this column during a cold spell. I HATE to be cold. The propane furnace runs almost continually even with the thermometer set at 65 degrees. I have a fire in the wood-burning stove. I’m wearing two layers of clothes.
What other solutions are possible? Certainly not the Keystone XL pipeline, whether it’s completed or not. The point I am trying to make is the problem lies with the individual, and only through individual effort will it be solved.
The solution to a blowhard like Williams? Turn off the TV.
Joan King is a Sautee resident. Her column appears biweekly.