Brian Williams and the Gaffe Heard ‘Round the World
On February 4, 2015, Brian Williams went on NBC Nightly News in order to apologize for falsely claiming that he was in a helicopter in Iraq in 2004 which took RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) fire.
Williams’s apology focused on not just the gaffe, but also on his motivations. He claimed that he was telling the story (incorrectly) in order to somehow honor a veteran. I hear a lot of flag-waving and appeals to patriotism. Williams says he misremembered an event from twelve years previously. While it may be difficult to recall events from more than a decade ago, the important and frightening ones tend to stand out. I would think that an incident of nearly being shot down, almost a near-death experience would be one of them. And so it is – except it never happened.
The very idea behind a news anchor is trustworthiness. The news, particularly here in America, is all about telling the truth to the public and the public’s right to know. The freedom of the press is of supreme importance. In the Society of Professional Journalists, Code of Ethics, it says, “Ethical journalism should be accurate and fair. Journalists should be honest and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.”
Further, in the Poynter Institute, The New Ethics of Journalism, it states, “Truth remains our most important goal.” To my mind, the ethical arguments being made are of the categorical imperative. Immanuel Kant says that duty is to be observed in all situations and circumstances. Williams had an obligation to tell the truth every time he was on the air either delivering the news or talking about events related to delivering the news.
Instead, he lied. And instead of initially apologizing, correcting the record, and perhaps checking his ego and his mouth before speaking about the matter again, he compounded the issue. The lie was repeated, almost taking on a ‘fish story’ quality. Or it was like how a story is repeated at a local bar, where the stakes get higher and the storyline slants ever more favorably for the storyteller. I feel his career is irreparably tarnished. I can’t see him recovering from this.