Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

I watch TV news so seldom that I am barely aware of who the network anchors are these days-- I think I may have thought that Brian Williams was the host of one of the morning chat shows that I also never watch. Frankly, I have really never thought of news anchors as anything but news readers, and yes, I include Walter Cronkite and the rest of his generation in that description. You aren't a reporter-- much less a journalist-- if you aren't out there wearing out shoe leather, and that, I think, is at the heart of what troubles me about the current fuss about Brian Williams making up a story about being shot at. When the Williams thing broke I read a couple of snarky things on Twitter that I thought were clever enough to repeat. One was, "I can't believe a white guy on TV lied to me." The other was, I think, attributed to Jon Stewart: “Finally someone is being held to account for misleading America about the Iraq war. The bad news is that it is Brian Williams.” This, I think, gets close to the truth, but isn't quite there. To get all the way we need to recognize what Brian Williams was doing in Iraq in the first place. He was there because as part of its campaign to gin up support for a war that was entered into under wholly fraudulent pretenses, the Bush administration allowed media "imbeds". At the time there was some mild consternation that the imbed policy was a tactic to co-opt legitimate coverage of the war, but that died down pretty quickly, and a whole lot of media people went and played dress-up, Brian Williams among them.

Bush's team understood how to propagandize, and what buttons to push. People were scared, and that nervous energy was exploited and channeled. Members of congress-- including, I am sad to report, both of New York's senators (but not my then Representative, Louise Slaughter)-- were afraid to be perceived as being anything but all in on the response to the attacks, and the mainstream media essentially went along. To make sure that the media kept going along members were slotted in to go along for the ride, and of course they went. The thing with rides is that what you are getting on the roller coaster is an artificial thrill, and as part of the mechanism to preserve that thrill we go along with the illusion. Brian Williams has been on helicopter rides-- in order to make this ride special he had to exaggerate a little. Really, in his mind, by pumping up the story a little what he was doing was establishing how brave the actual poor bastards who were fighting the war actually were. That was important to do, because the lie from Vietnam was that the troops were not properly appreciated. If you make the war about the bravery of the people fighting it, then criticism of the war becomes criticism of the troops. Even when the troops deserved condemnation, for, e.g., conducting impromptu torture sessions, that criticism can be brushed aside because our moral capacity has been compromised through manipulation of our fear.

I have no reason to believe that Brian Williams is particularly intelligent, or very self-aware. He is, as far as I can tell, a haircut, so picking on him for being a haircut is probably unfair. He did the job he was sent to do, and he is probably as confused as hell about what has happened here. A consequence of our national stability is that we value continuity, and this means that when the chief executive changes, either by failing of re-election, or by reaching the constitutionally prescribed limit, that executive's policies are not, typically, denounced, and are only gradually changed. This bias towards continuity has manifested itself openly only once that I can recall: when Ford pardoned Nixon. The rest of the time we let our war criminals walk out the front door. No decent person would stay in a room with Donald Rumsfeld, or Dick Cheney, or George W. Bush, but instead of being indicted they walk among us as free men. I say that Brian Williams should should be treated likewise: let him continue to read the news so that we can watch him and realize that we are being taken for a ride, just like he was.

| Comments:
Interesting article in the Atlantic Jan/Feb issue adds to your take (as does the sorry saga of NY Times reporter Judith Miller), that we fail our military in our failure to criticize it. Williams may have told stories to highlight the brave troops, but that isn't nearly as serious a problem as the overall willingness of journalists to be co-opted into selling the war and the general public, and more particularly our politicians, being unwilling to apply the least bit of critical thought to war, strategy or any other aspect of the military-industrial complex we were long ago warned off of and live with increasingly. To listen to some of what gets peddled on the far right, and to look at how military spending dominates the federal government, you would have to think the government serves the military, not the other way around.
Take note of how we are marching to war again and how much of our evening news coverage is playing it up. things are tough on TV when there are no major wars to talk about. Peace Conferences don't make much TV news.

I do find some gallows humor in watching our beloved Congress try to not support Obama as he manipulates them to be in favor of more military action than he wants so it doesn't get labeled "Obama's War" and still gets lots of military contracts, etc. for each of their districts..


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