[OPINION]The Brian Williams train wreck and its affect on liberal media.
For those of you who don’t know, Brian Williams was a highly respected, powerful news anchor and executive at NBC News. Recently, it was discovered that Mr. Williams was actually manufacturing (making-up) news and putting himself literally in the middle of these imaginary news events. I have been in and around the news business for twenty years and I don’t think I have ever seen anything like this.
Mr. Williams is a likable and sympathetic individual and it was painful to watch and listen to his mea culpa to colleague Matt Lauer on live TV. I do not know Mr. Williams personally, but I could not help the feelings of dread and anguish as he explained and openly confessed to falsifying news accounts for personal gain. I guess many in the business felt the same way because with Williams, the legacy of objective news reporting slips further into extinction.
Guys like Williams (and NBC) along with other major news organizations were supposed to be the final barrier to partisan news reporting; the last great source (and hope) for honest, professional, objective news. Mr. Williams was not trying to hurt anyone with his lies, he was trying to embellish his accomplishments. But he hurt an entire industry in the process. So many web sites that purport to be news sources have devastated the semblance of objective news reporting and blurred the line between fact and opinion it is hard for the average person to understand what is real any more. It is stunning how many people actually get their news from comedy shows such as Jon Stewart’s Daily Show. It is even more stunning that Mr. Stewart also sees himself as a journalist at times.
The difference between sources such as the Daily Show and smear/propaganda web sites such as Salon.com and the major news agencies is the notion of accountability. Getting the story right used to matter to editors and journalists, even though it may be harder and less entertaining, truth in reporting once was the holy grail of journalism. Jon Stewart does not care about accuracy and truth, his job is to manipulate those concepts to the point that they become absurd and funny. If Mr. Stewart does get it wrong (and who would know?) he simply says, “lighten-up, it’s comedy.” He has zero accountability; and that’s ok, right up to the point he takes himself seriously, which is often. Mr. Stewart is a master of his craft and his grasp of satire is approaching genius. The unintended consequence of of Mr. Stewart’s parody is that an alarming number of people view it as factual, hard news.
The phenomenon of the Daily Show passing as hard news is easy to explain but no less disturbing. We live in a world of instant gratification and low expectations. Most people are simply too lazy to read or deduce, research and reason right from wrong on their own. Also, like never before, the divide between liberal and conservative ideals have never been greater or as acrimonious. More importantly, many people are not interested in being informed as much as they would like to have their existing opinions reinforced.
For a large portion of Americans, Mr. Stewart’s brand of satire is the perfect brew, it combines an idealized (if not grossly distorted and partisan) view of facts to satisfy left-leaning individuals while delivering a scathing and often humiliating blow to opposing views, giving the powerless masses a sense of voice and purpose. It’s the “oh, boy we really showed them'” syndrome. And then the sarcastic snippet is usually packaged into a cartoon with a snarky, sarcastic caption (meme) so that every simpleton can post it on their Facebook page to express their view…which is really someone else’s view, but it says it better than they can…and they don’t have to write or use words…or have an original thought…and so we have half the population essentially drinking their own bathwater…or Jon Stewart’s bathwater.
I don’t agree with William’s politics but I respect his view. I don’t respect what he did, I wish he had not done it. The world needs guys like Brian Williams (without the lying) to offer honest reporting to those on the left and to defend liberal ideals with dignity. Presently, MSNBC is one of the few places that this is supposed to exist, then there is CNN (clearly a better choice). MSNBC is trying desperately to be the liberal version of Fox News, but it is failing miserably. MSNBC has completely misunderstood what makes Fox News so successful.
Fox News has a remarkable level of excellence in their news reporting and exceedingly high standards for fact-checking. This is reflected in their dominance in the ratings (it’s not even close). This also is a verifiable fact. In the course of reporting, Fox often challenges views and claims made by the left and allows the evidence to speak for itself. It is powerful and effective. In many cases, this makes some on the left look somewhat ridiculous and without credibility.
I may be wrong, but I am convinced that Fox is mainly trying to set the record straight, not embarrass people. MSNBC sees only the latter part and endeavors to simply engage in character assassination. They completely miss the point that it’s not about humiliating people and that’s why they are failing. MSNBC comes across as hateful and ignorant, it is somewhat refreshing to know that even liberals don’t watch it in any significant numbers. You may not like Fox News or what their commentators (different from news reporters) represent, but rarely will Bill O’Reilly get the facts wrong. You may not like his opinion of the fact or the manner in which he positions facts, but he is the best in the business in getting the facts straight. MSNBC, on the other hand is where truth goes to die. It is a sad irony that it is the place NBC is sending Brian Williams.
In an attempt to “level the playing field” in the wake of the implosion of liberal media, hard-core left web sites have taken to a scorched earth policy. Essentially, they are grossly distorting the notion of honest journalism in an attempt to marginalize the successful, honest players. If I did not know any better, I would think this to be true. The sad fact is that if nobody visited these sites, they would cease to exist. The hard truth is that many people would rather have reinforcement rather than objective information, and they want to be entertained in the process. Most citizens don’t have the energy, motivation or intellectual curiosity to really learn or to be informed. Considering this, it is easy to see what motivated Brian Williams to create an alternate reality.
It is not hard to see it in daily life as well. It is easier to hold a romantic ideal that America’s blacks are being systematically discriminated against rather than face the reality of the causes. It is so much more compelling to create false narratives about how Michael Brown died than to admit his behavior was the direct cause of his fate. But even after that was made unequivocally clear, many continued to tell the false tale. The story of Baltimore is a similar story. Only in Baltimore, discrimination is being used by black politicians as cover for decades of failed policies.
So let’s not point the finger of shame only at Mr. Williams. Brian Williams saw an eager public willing to drink down a healthy dose of intellectual garbage and he was there to serve it up.