As you probably know, the NBC Nightly News anchor is on unpaid leave after apparently embellishing his account of an attack during the Iraq War. Williams claimed he was aboard a helicopter when it was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade in 2003; military witnesses insist that ‘copter wasn’t his. Williams has since apologized, blaming “the fog of memory” for his error.
One struggles to believe an experienced journalist could mistake another downed helicopter for the one he was on. The Internet apparently agrees and has had a big laugh at Williams’ expense, suggesting his involvement in everything from the moon landings to the Gettysburg Address.
We’re all guilty of making our memories more entertaining when we retell them. However, as a journalist, Williams and his peers must be held to a higher standard than the average Boomer who “remembers” being at Woodstock. Violating that standard seriously damaged Williams’ and the network’s reputations. His suspension (and probable departure) is appropriate.
At the same time, there’s a darker outcome to all this: the negative impact on journalism overall. In an era where respect for the news media continues to decline, the Williams debacle will only accelerate the trend. For the good of society, we need journalists who are committed to the truth; for the same reason, we need a public that’s discerning rather than cynical.