Friday, February 13, 2015

A career-altering error

When I look at the deep snow outside my window, it’s hard to imagine that baseball will be back in New England in just six short weeks, but I really can’t wait. The 2015 season is going to be an interesting one for local fans whether they root for the Red Sox or the Yankees. Both teams had a “rebuilding” year in 2014 but the Yankees also bid farewell to Derek Jeter, one of their most popular players of all time. Their anti-Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, will be back this year and it remains to be seen whether fans — or anyone else — will forgive him for cheating by taking performance-enhancing drugs and then lying about it.

We’ll be having another conversation about forgiveness six months from now when Brian Williams may once again appear behind the NBC News anchor desk. As you may have read, it appears that Williams embellished his reporting from the war in Iraq and Hurricane Katrina by fabricated facts and details. In an era when the “news” is about entertainment as much as information, perhaps this should come as no surprise but national network news is not supposed to be “soft” like the Today Show or have the partisan political viewpoint of The National Review or The New Republic. Even more distressing is that the scenes that were embellished were dramatic to begin with: post-Katrina New Orleans and the war in Iraq provided more than enough peril to report.

I deal with members of the media regularly and in general I find that they are very serious about their jobs and are passionate about the integrity of their work. While most of them know what they want to write before they’ve gathered the facts — i.e. they’ve already got their “angle” —I’ve not encountered a reporter who altered the facts to make a story more interesting. If anything, most reporters take a step back when something is “juicy.” I think the Brian Williams saga is even more distressing because he made it about him: his helicopter was damaged, he saw a body — he made himself the star of the story and a good reporter should never do that.

If this were cast as a baseball game, some might say that Brian Williams made a career-altering error akin to the ball that ran through Bill Buckner’s legs. But the truth is that this isn’t a game and creating a false narrative about a life and death situation is inexcusable. I think Brian Williams’ career as a journalist is over — and it should be.

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