Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Brian Williams the New Jayson Blair of Journalism?

Devoted readers of The New York Times have already held it not in just high regard, but the highest regard. It was and probably continues to be the ultimate news source and prides itself in presenting all "the news that's fit to print" yet, in too many instances, it has failed its charge and our trust. Not because the editors are not trustworthy or have some devious motive behind the ugly deceptions revealed by various writers in their books, but because they trusted their writers and that was their failing.

Jayson Blair was a rising star of journalism at the NYT and also held in high regard for his incredible ability to ferret out stories that riveted us by their content. He would go on to be revealed as having fabricated stories. One fabulous story was about a student who, according to Blair, died of a cocaine overdose. Actually, he died of a heart condition. Among the discoveries that led to his downfall would be articles written about places he had not been and others that he lifted from other people's articles. He fabricated quotations and made up items to include in his articles--all false.

When push finally came to shove, Blair admitted on a radio show that the trail of misdeeds was paved by his fear that he might be seen as not up to the level expected of him. So, was he a victim of "The Impostor Syndrome?" Seems likely. And is Brian Williams similarly afflicted by this character chink? Could be.  Behind the square jaw, the polished hair and impeccably tailored and cleaned suit, there may lie a guy who is shaking in his briefs for fear he will be found out. So, he races full throttle to avoid falling on his face.

David Carr, the media maven of The New York Times, knew all about the peccadillo's of the writers and the forces that push them. The unbelievable hubris of TV media may have been shown best in the documentary "Page One: Inside the New York Times" where NBC's Brian Williams is seen on the NBC Nightly News communicating with Richard Engel. Williams is announcing that the war in Iraq is over and Engel is on the last truck out.  Carr is featured in the documentary and his comments on media are worth nothing.

The Pentagon had made no such announcement and the Times editors frantically try to find out how this news items came to be.  The White House, meanwhile, was indicating the war was to be over at the end of that month, not that night when 58K troops were still in Iraq. How inconvenient for the TV news guys who want to be right there in on the action and, in fact, calling it.

One editor is saying on camera, "Is the war over and I missed it?" No, it's just another example of the creation of a news item to please a TV audience even if the network has no authority to declare the war over. Even the Pentagon was blindsided by this evening announcement by Williams.

How did things get to this point? The beast must be fed and the network is determined to throw them the meat they crave. It's a "Belly of the Beast" moment but it's not a singular one when you consider how no attempt was made to quash the persistent embellishment by Brian Williams (and perhaps others) regarding his daring do in war or other newsworthy zones. Say, the Katrina flooding, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the raid by SealTeam6.

When media began to embed journalists in war units, the PR campaign was obviously in full swing but the military seems to have been poorly educated in the workings of PR. Who was advising them? It was more theater than journalism and those that would provide wise counsel have retired, given buyouts or unwillingly given their walking papers. Who is left to peruse the news and attempt to inject at least some journalistic integrity and meaning amidst all the entertainment that encroaches on content?

Obviously, there is more than enough for all of us to consider when we read or watch news. How much is pap, what is the underlying agenda and what are we really getting in terms of intelligent dialog? We are not all mushbrains and we should resent being treated as such. News aggregators, too, are not holier than thou because without the print media where would they be?

Read and watch warily, my friends, because you never know what is coming down the pike and who is a trusted guide to help each of us on our way in our journey.

http://www.drfarrell.net