Saturday, February 07, 2015

Brian Williams: Spokesmodel

I have had an ongoing argument with good friend JB on theories about humor. One of his ideas that I have disagreed about is the idea that a joke can be "too easy." JB's stance is that if a joke is easy, it isn't necessarily funny. I would offer up the Three Stooges as a counter to his argument. Poking an idiot in the eye, as the Stooges often do, is a pretty easy joke, and it is funny. I've always discounted JB's argument, but the jokes being made at Brian Williams' expense have actually given me pause to reconsider it. In doing so, I don't have a top 11 list or song parody about Brian Williams' Walter Mitty-like memory, but I do have a comment.

I will go on record as saying that I don't like Williams because I find him to be smug, arrogant, and biased. He seems to want to be simultaneously considered a serious journalist and a pop culture celebrity. One would not be crazy to suspect that he pulled strings to get his daughter a starring television gig.

Now he stands to lose his job over fabricating a story related to the dangers he faced in a war zone.

In America, we seem to take the news more seriously than in many countries. We use the term "anchorman." In much of Europe, the equivalent term is "presenter." There is a not-so-subtle difference. Presenter suggests that someone is presenting the news, as a waitress presents a drink. British newspapers offer soft core pornography (topless women) alongside their news. In some countries, there are TV channels whose news presenters are topless models. These presenters don't offer the image of an individual ready to take responsibility for the content of their product. Such individuals exist, but off camera.

Many American anchormen, including Williams specifically, have added a title such as "editor" or "producer" to their title as anchorman. This suggests that they are responsible for content. I have often wondered why one needs to trust an anchorman. If the news is reported impartially, wouldn't it be better to have an attractive floozy who wouldn't let their ideas and interpretations get in the way presenting it to us? Who would care if the bimbo who reads the news likes to make up stories? Why would the personal conduct or character of a news reader matter? As long as they can look attractive and read effectively, they can do the job.

Williams' lies present a dilemma for his employer. If NBC keeps Williams in his present position, then they are admitting that he is nothing more than a presenter. In order to maintain the ideal that an anchorman is a critical influence in the delivery of quality news, then he must go.

I'd add that while NBC will make a decision, they actually have already made one. For years, Williams told his story that many suspected was full of holes. NBC and its news organization did not punish Williams for this behavior. That tells us something about NBC's opinion of Williams and of his role. This tells me that NBC is content to allow someone with questionable credibility have influence over the news they report. Even if they fire him today, this multi-year judgement reflects poorly on NBC's ability to present reliable, accurate, and unbiased news.


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