by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
By now everyone knows about his transgressions. If even only some of the reports are true, Brian Williams is a serial embellisher, a self-aggrandizing fabulist.
No doubt everyone knows somebody like this, and if you don’t it’s probably because you’re that guy. But Williams’ case is special. This isn’t some sad Willy Loman at the end of the bar who needs to invent impressive stories about himself. If anything, he needed to not tell such stories, given that he reportedly makes more than $10 million a year to be a trusted name in news.
Yet he couldn’t stop himself.
“To walk down a street with an anchor is to be stunned both by how many people recognize them and how many viewers call out to them about specific stories,” writes Ken Auletta, The New Yorker’s media critic. “There’s a respectful familiarity different from the awe displayed to Hollywood celebrities. The anchor is treated as the citizen’s trusted guide to the news. As a result, they can feel expected to dominate discussions, to tell war stories, to play God.”
I have no doubt that’s true. But I am also certain that Williams is hearing only from the people who see him as their trusted guide to the news, and that can be very deceptive. …
… Until this story broke, Williams was an unobtrusive news-reading mannequin who occasionally broke character to tell jokes — and fake tales of valor — on late-night talk shows. Perhaps he told these stories because, deep down, he knew he was a false idol. Or maybe not.
But it is instructive to watch Williams’s fellow media Olympians rally to his defense. They have an investment in a system that rewards celebrity so handsomely — and not just financially. They are the last beneficiaries of the Old Order, when nightly news anchors were cultivated to be “the voice of God,” as insiders at CBS used to call the position.
Those days are almost gone.