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Monday, February 9, 2015

Brian Williams and Baghdad Bob

Brian Williams and Baghdad Bob

By Pierre Tristam
The Smirking Chimp
February 9, 2015

In 2008, Hillary Rodham Clinton lied when she claimed that she’d
run across an airport tarmac in Bosnia to avoid sniper fire.

It was left up to the comedian Sinbad, who was on the same trip
with Clinton, to set her straight when he recalled that the only
scary part of the trip was where they could all eat next.

Ronald Reagan actually told an Israeli prime minister that he’d
been among the American troops liberating Auschwitz, when in
reality the old liar had spent World War II making movies Stateside
for the military’s First Motion Picture Unit in Culver City, Calif.

Not nearly as big a deal as the lies he told to hide his role in the
Iran-Contras, hostages-for-arms dealings that should have ended
his presidency, and instead only turned another inveterate liar,
Oliver North, into a cult hero.

Lyndon Johnson’s lies could drown Texas.

When he became president, Helen Gahagan Douglas, the actress,
Congresswoman and one of LBJ’s many mistresses, said she was
certain that “we had heard the last frank response to a question
from the press.”

She knew her liars: she’d lost to Richard Nixon in a Senate race
13 years earlier.

As for GWB, all we have to say is WMD.

That politicians lie is not a surprise. For some it’s part of the
job description.

Reporters and news anchors know that. They report on lies daily.

Brian Williams of NBC news reported those of Clinton and Bush.

He’d also just become anchor of NBC’s nightly news when he
reported on the retirement of Dan Rather from CBS, a retirement
hastened by Rather’s blundered report on Bush’s suspicious military
service.

Rather never lied. He just reported a sloppy story that was
never backed up by solid evidence.

And soon after that, Rather was in essence fired when CBS
refused to renew his contract. Williams reported on that, too.

When reporters lie, they break the industry’s equivalent
of a Hippocratic oath.

They do great harm to their organization’s credibility, but
also to the people they cover and the audiences who trust
them.

Williams, it turns out, is an outright liar.

He’s been telling a story about being shot down in a helicopter
in the early days of the Iraq war.

Totally false.

Veterans and Stars and Stripes, the military’s newspaper,
corrected him.

He was forced to apologize.

He lied even in his apology. He claimed he’d been following
the helicopter that was struck. He hadn’t.

His helicopter was forced to land because of a sand storm.

Only later was Williams able to speak to the crew of the copter
hit by an RPG round, when that aircraft landed in the same place.

He claimed he’d “conflated” some events in a “bungled attempt”
to publicly thank a veteran on the PA system at a New York Rangers
game (another one of those moments of choreographed pandering
the television camera and its distortive effects love so much).

That was a lie too because two years ago on Letterman Williams
marked the 10th anniversary of that bogus story by going on the
show and boasting about it.

Williams originally told his tall tale in a NBC report when
Tom Brokaw was in the anchor chair.

“A colleague Brian Williams is back in Kuwait City tonight after
a close call in the skies above Iraq,” Brokaw told his audience
in that report. “Brian, tell us what you got yourself into.”

“In the end Tom,” Williams replied, “it did give us a glimpse
of the war being fought as few have seen it.”

He was right in one respect:

Williams’s report was part of a series of surreal, fictional, bogus or
fabricated stories that poured out of the front in those early weeks,
whether it was the way the media invented Jessica Lynch’s bogus
heroics or choreographed the felling of Saddam Hussein’s statue in
Fidros Square as it all led up to the mother of all fictions, Bush’s
“Mission Accomplished” moment on the USS Abraham Lincoln.

All befitting a war born of a lie.

In a way, singling out Williams for contributing to mass chest-
thumping at home may seem a bit unfair: his lie was minor
compared to the overt and far more consequential lies the
nation’s leading news media were peddling on behalf of the
Bush regime.

Those early days of the war as Williams was supposedly behind
enemy lines in his shot-down helicopter, American television
screens were often filled with the hilarity of Baghdad Bob, the
Iraqi information minister who became famous for giving Iraq its
own version of the Pentagon’s Five O’Clock Follies in Vietnam as
he stood on one corner or another, claiming that American troops
were committing suicide, their invasion thwarted even as you
could hear the rumble of American advances nearby.

But again, "Baghdad Bob" was only a less sophisticated version
of the Bush propaganda machine, which America’s news media
happily oiled and broadcast.

Embedding was seen as an honor, rather than, as the word
explicitly means, being in bed with the government.

Williams was an embed when he told his lie, too.

Maybe Williams and Baghdad Bob had a beer somewhere
along the way.

But there’s a limit to Williams’s hilarity.

Getting shot at isn’t the sort of thing you conflate with anything.

It either happened or it didn’t.

The rest is Hollywood, which TV reporters are often closer
to than truth of any depth.

Equally troubling, as a pile of analysts have pointed out, is the fact
that Williams was accompanied by an NBC crew whose members
never said a word to correct him, including his producer, who’s
essentially his fact-checker and editor.

Even more troubling is NBC’s reaction: There hasn’t been any.

Until the end of the week Williams was in his anchor chair,
blathering on in faux-gravity about this and that scandal
while NBC did its best to hide the herd of elephants in the
studio.

Now we’re led to believe that it was Williams who pulled himself
off his newscast, not NBC President Deborah Turness who removed
him, though the network finally came around to an investigation of
the Iraq lie and possibly others in the Williams oeuvre.

When reporters are caught plagiarizing or fabricating stories
(different denominations of the same deceptive currency)
they’re fired.

Stephen Glass of the New Republic, Jayson Blair of the New York
Times, Janet Cooke of the Washington Post (she won a Pulitzer in
1981 after fabricating a tale about an 8-year-old heroin addict).

Willful sloppiness is no excuse, either, as the New York Times’s
Judith Miller found out after her fiction-filled WMD coverage
(naturally she took refuge for a while at Fox, where fiction’s
courtesans always have a home), and of course as Dan Rather
found out.

But Williams so far gets to decide his own fate. He’s not like
other reporters.

He’s media’s equivalent of too big to fail: a $10 million-a-year
man still delivering ratings.

His memo announcing his brief hiatus left no doubt about his
intentions, or his inability to gauge his error:

“Upon my return, I will continue my career-long effort to be
worthy of the trust of those who place their trust in us.”

That “career-long” and “effort” no longer belong in a Williams
sentence is a minor point.

So is the presumption of that upon my return, from the allegedly
most self-deprecating man in network news.

But that the anchor of the nation’s leading newscast thinks it’s still
up to him to return begs the question: who was in charge at NBC
when Williams filed his original fabrication, and who’s in charge
now?

Politicians and public love to bash media.

Often enough the wounds are self-inflicted, but also corrected,
we hope.

If Williams does return, it’s difficult to imagine how the credibility
of NBC News can survive when it’s played in the same sandbox as
Baghdad Bob.



Pierre Tristam is the editor of FlaglerLive, a non-profit news service
in Florida.

http://www.smirkingchimp.com/thread/pierre-tristam/60882/brian-williams-and-baghdad-bob

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