The controversy over NBC anchorman Brian Williams brings up some interesting issues. Credibility is an important attribute of a news reporter but it’s also important in our employees, friends and neighbors. People lie for many different reasons. The very definition of what constitutes a lie is at times complicated, with a range that includes white lies which are generally “OK” while other kinds of lies are not. In some cultures, embellishment and mendacity are expected. What would be considered lying in a church in Iowa would be welcome entertainment in a street market in Yemen. In security questioning, the goal is not just to find the lie but the intent behind it. Understanding intention fills in the larger security picture and helps us to calculate threat.
So, what of Mr. Williams? Here is another example in the list of incidents where he appears to misrepresent the truth:
In a 2006 interview with Jon Stewart, Williams described his experiences during the 2006 war between Lebanon and Israel. Here’s the video clip below. His story was that he was flying with an Israeli 4-star general in a Blackhawk helicopter whose gunnery doors were open and he could see Katyusha missiles exploding beneath them.
Show this interview to anyone who has served in the Israeli army and they would find much of it odd:
(1) The IDF is relatively small. The highest level a soldier can attain below Chief of Staff is an Aloof which is the equivalent of a 1-star general. There is no such thing as a 4 star general in the Israeli military forces.
(2) Israeli military protocol is that a helicopter’s doors remain closed while in the air. The U.S. military operates differently.
(3) Blackhawk helicopters in Israel do not have gunners, they serve an almost solely transport function.
Thousands of Katyusha rockets were fired into Israel that year. It was a common occurrence and a believable component of the story.
Williams’ version is exciting. He was not reading copy from a news desk but was speaking as part of an exchange that was meant to be entertaining. So, maybe he felt the need to embellish, painting in interesting details. The only tricky thing is that in both cases he is in front of a camera. Not at a dinner party. In front of a camera, he represents a news brand that promises to deliver accurate information to its audience. The audience depends on reporters to know the difference between objective covering of news versus being a part of the story.
In today’s atmosphere of celebrity reporting, we the audience would be generally advised to take a cynical and questioning view of information we obtain from anywhere. Get corroboration. Know your source. Understand their intention and style.
What was the intent behind Williams’ misrepresentations/exaggerations/lies over the years? Share your take on it with us.