Saturday, February 7, 2015

Is Brian Williams Having a Memory Blip or a Misrepresentation?

Superstar NBC-TV anchor Brian Williams is embroiled in a good sized dust-up over his statements (over the past 12 years) that he was in Iraq in a helicopter that was hit by RPG groundfire. Military veterans are raising the level of disdain about anyone touting involvement in military actions--at least when they believe that there's reason to question. And question they are doing right now. Not as simple as it would seem, however, dear readers. Memory is a fickle thing and when you repeat a story enough times, truth and fantasy meld into one another until the real "truth" is difficult to decipher.

How many famous people have been caught in situations where their veracity has been questioned regarding what they've produced? You don't have to look far and certainly Williams is not alone in "misremembering" something they've either produced or were involved in creating. A quick down memory lane might be helpful here.

The Harvard professor and highly respected author, Doris Kearns Goodwin, found herself in a credibility gap of sorts regarding one of her books, "The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys," where she was accused of plagiarism. Goodwin owned up to the "errors" and chalked it up to inadequate research and, as I remember, placed the blame on her team of researchers not herself. The original printing of the book was withdrawn from circulation, re-edited and reissued. Doris was off the hook but also out of her regular spot on a weekly TV news show.

Jane Goodall, who seemingly managed to get a doctorate from Cambridge University without any prior degrees, was caught in an unpleasant situation relative to her book, "Seeds of Hope: Wisdom and Wonder from the World of Planets." Seems she borrowed sections from Wikipedia and astrology sites? Goodall apologized.

Alex Haley, author of "Roots," which turned into a huge bestseller and a film, was accused of using portions of other books and fictionalizing other material. And he's not alone in the bestseller area.

Greg Mortenson, author of "Three Cups of Tea," a runaway bestseller, was found to have fabricated portions of the book and, in an unrelated event, had to repay $1M to a charity with which he was associated.

On TV, the very well-known and respected CNN TV host Fareed Zakaria was found to have used extensive bits from previously published articles by others and failed to attribute the material to the original authors. He was suspended briefly by both CNN and Time magazine where he is employed.

Dan Rather, who made those career-improving statements from the floor of the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, rose to be in the pantheon of TV hosts--until one particular story. The facts in an on-air feature on CBS re President George W. Bush's service in the military were questioned and found to be wanting in accuracy. Rather was toppled from his position as were many other executives and his major producer at the network.

Memory and the wish to produce memorable material and even to embellish one's standing in some area may be forces that are too strong to resist. The unpleasant result of failing to restrain these forces can, however, lead to rather unpleasant endings, careers being one of them.