Everybody lies. The House aficionados amongst us recognize the phrase as Dr. House’s favorite line. In conversation with his diagnostic team, House would spiral into lengthy diatribes about the propensity for all humans—their patients, especially—to lie. House was a genius, but it doesn’t take a genius to understand that concept.
We all lie, all the time, every hour of the day. Most of the time the lies are so little and white we barely notice them. Sometimes they are more severe with bigger consequences should we get caught. When we do get caught, it is often the case that we admit to lying, apologize to those involved, and do what has to be done to correct for having lied.
Brian Williams, the anchor for NBC Nightly News, was caught in a pretty severe lie last week. It was discovered that he had lied to the public for years about being in a helicopter hit by RPG fire during the U.S. invasion of Iraq. It turns out he was never under duress and landed safely behind the helicopters that were actually under fire.
After finally getting caught twelve years later, Williams admitted to altering the facts. He apologized on the Nightly News. The question comes to be, how should he correct for his lie? NBC believes that the way to correct for his lie is to suspend him for six months without pay. It seems that many viewers feel the same way: Williams has developed a God complex, broken their trust as a news anchor, and should leave the network.
I disagree with the last stipulation, but the first two seem rather true. The thing is, though, we are to blame for the God complex and the broken trust. Because we are responsible for the first two, the final stipulation is an absurd correction.
Popular news anchors with God complexes have been around since the days of Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow. It’s hard not to have a God complex when you’re watched by millions daily and responsible for delivering breaking news, thereby changing lives in a second. Only recently have we cared about the personal lives of news anchors as much as we’ve been invested in Williams’. He’s a public figure no doubt, having appeared on 30 Rock and Jimmy Fallon’s late night shows several times. His daughter is a beautiful actress. Williams himself is a handsome guy.
The crazy thing is, it is possible to be a handsome, funny public figure and be a trustworthy news anchor. It is our doing that we have morphed the two. We have made his life outside the newsroom equally as important as the news he broadcasts. But Brian Williams the celebrity and Brian Williams the news anchor do not have to be one in the same, and most importantly, the news stories he shares with us every night do not have to be tainted by a lie about his personal life. While Brian Williams the public figure needs to correct for his lie, Brian Williams the news anchor does not.
Believing that Williams was in a helicopter under fire does not affect your understanding of the events of the Iraq War. It does not now, and it did not back in 2003. If you feel your trust in Williams as a news anchor has been broken by this incident, you might want to turn on E! News instead because the real news does not work in that manner, as anchors never report on their own lives during the broadcast and present it as a news update.
Williams’ skewed war story does not make him an untrustworthy news source. We should allow him to reenter our hearts and the NBC Nightly News desk. Williams’ six-month suspension won’t hurt him financially, but it is likely that it will affect the rest of his career. Instead of the suspension, I propose he correct the situation by writing out a check to the veterans who were actually on the helicopters under fire to amend for the money he may have inadvertently made through the years from that story. Money doesn’t fix everything, nor will it correct the situation entirely, but it is the best he can do twelve years after the fact. For now, we need to understand the truth of the matter.
Everybody lies, and everybody should have the chance to be forgiven if they deserve it. Let us use reason this time around.