The really dumb, pitiable thing about Brian Williams’ circumstance today is that he felt he had to do it at all – that his maleness or reportage or patriotism would be enhanced by it. But death doesn’t need a punch-up or rewrite. Nearly 20 years ago, I stood outside a club in New Haven, Connecticut, and some argument resulted in a bunch of handgun fire, and I dove in full chickenshit mode behind a car. It would be infinitely sexier to claim that someone standing next to me took a bullet. (They didn’t.) It would be sexier still to claim that I was in the coffeehouse a block away that got shot-up in retribution. (I wasn’t; I’d left it five minutes before.) But all of that is scary stuff without elaboration.
Being shot near is abnormal enough to hold people’s attention; it’s sad that Brian Williams seemed to think he wasn’t taking a brave enough risk by merely flying over one of the most dangerous cities in the world, in the same kind of vehicle that had been shot down merely an hour before. That he felt he needed to claim to be in that other vehicle and “incapable” of remembering whether it was struck with a goddamn rocket is just dumb as hell.
But what’s especially silly – and what will make his firing sillier still – is that he felt a kind of duty to “authenticity” to zero the distance between himself and the troops. In the very climate that he and other media members helped foster (the one in which all soldiers are heroes by default), the solemnity of his war reporting comes with the prerequisite that he seem, at least in one or two telegenic moments, indivisible from the heroes around him.
Maybe it speaks to some defect in Brian Williams’ character that he felt he needed to be a character as much as a reporter – like his sideshow gigs of being the Disembodied Head of Brian Williams on the TV wall behind Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, or being yet another mega-Springsteen fan journalist, or being a nine-time recurring guest gig on 30 Rock as himself. Given all of that, maybe Brian Williams putting on fatigues was just another form of dress-up and being liked.
There was another option for him – there always was – but, depending on how you define the word, it was always a lot more dangerous. Brian Williams could have renounced feel-good features on the “regular joes” feeding a war machine revved up on lies and focused instead on the lies endangering them. He could have reported more on non-heroes – both the desk bound creators of the war or the volunteers of questionable stability who make the Hadithas every time. Or he could have reported on heroes who worked as contractors for the American occupation and were left behind in a radicalized nation without Uncle Sam’s backing or, even better, on the black-books contractor class that took US payouts and did their jobs with minimal inconvenience and maximal collateral damage.
All of that is less fun and more threatening to one’s contract than a sexed-up trip in a whirlybird in a warzone, but it’s reporting too. Edward R Murrow had his war reporting moment, but then he made a second one by fighting a cynical patriotic narrative in service to posterity and at great risk to himself. Not everyone can do that, but failure at the attempt is nobler than a successful joyride. Besides, it seemed to work out for him all right.
The above passage comes from Jeb Lund's op-ed for the GUARDIAN titled "Brian Williams will lose his job for giving us what we wanted to hear."
Link to the complete column: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/feb/10/brian-williams-will-lose-his-job-iraqi-helicopter-story