The Parthenon

Brian Williams’ suspension reminds journalists to speak more carefully

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Just because Williams misremembered a story from 12 years ago, does not automatically make him a liar who cannot be trusted, but at the same time, a journalist who tells a falsehood will inevitably come under fire since he or she is in a business where everything you say is scrutinized and checked for accuracy.

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Among the most prominent stories bannered across news websites recently involves Brian Williams recent suspension from NBC Nightly News. The suspension stems from an incident that occurred to Williams in 2003 while reporting on the war in Iraq, a story that was later revealed as false. Although it is a story Williams has recounted for years, it was its retelling while honoring a retired U.S. Army General during a newscast Jan. 30 that the lie was exposed.

“The story actually started with a terrible moment a dozen years back during the invasion of Iraq, when the helicopter we were traveling in was forced down after being hit by an RPG,” Williams said on the Jan. 30 newscast. “Our traveling NBC News team was rescued, surrounded and kept alive by an armor-mechanized platoon from the US Army 3rd Infantry.”

Flight engineer Lance Reynolds, who was on the Chinook helicopter that was struck, exposed the lie. In response to a video post of the story on the NBC Nightly News Facebook page, Reynolds responded, “Sorry, dude, I don’t remember you being on my aircraft. I do remember you walking up about an hour after we had landed to ask me what had happened.”

On the Feb. 4 broadcast of NBC Nightly News, Williams made a public apology, admitting his misrepresentation of events.

“I want to apologize,” Williams said on the broadcast. “I said I was traveling in an aircraft that was hit by RPG fire. I was instead in a following aircraft…. This was a bungled attempt by me to thank one special veteran, and by extension, our brave military men and women, veterans everywhere—those who served while I did not.”

Shortly after Williams’s on-air admission, NBC announced his suspension. The response to his embellishment, and the network’s response to it, has sparked a firestorm of debate both defending and criticizing Williams.

Chris Rock responded to the incident via Twitter on Feb. 7.

“Brian Williams embellishes one story = worldwide controversy,” Rock tweeted. “Fox News lies unapologetically for 20 straight years = #1 cable news network.”

In contrast, Former army ranger Kris Paronto slammed Williams for the incident.

“This is one of, if not the most, despicable acts of lying to those who have served,” Paronto said.  “He is stealing valor from those that have actually seen combat and been shot at with RPG’s and small arms fire. I can tell you from firsthand experience that you do not misremember being shot at. This lie and continual lying to cover up the first lie says a lot about Mr. Williams’ character, or lack thereof.”

Just because Williams misremembered a story from 12 years ago, does not automatically make him a liar who cannot be trusted, but at the same time, a journalist who tells a falsehood will inevitably come under fire since he or she is in a business where everything you say is scrutinized and checked for accuracy.

In journalism, truth is our motto and credibility our life force. If either fall under question, everything falls under question.”

Which is exactly what is happening now. Critics have accused him of exaggerating incidents that occurred while he covered Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the war between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006.

Whether or not the Iraq story is an isolated incident or one of many, a journalist must understand that everything he or she says is under scrutiny and as such, words must be chosen carefully. In journalism, truth is our motto and credibility our life force. If either fall under question, everything falls under question. To wit, even the smallest crack will cause the floodgates to burst. While NBC officials said Williams’ suspension is only temporary, America’s lack of trust in Williams may be permanent.

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