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Brian Williams’s “conflated” scandal

Caricature of SteveUnless NBC News Anchor Brian Williams is prepared to admit that he suffers from some form of dementia, his apology doesn’t hold water.

For more than a decade he claims to have been aboard a military helicopter that was fired upon during the Iraq War.  Only this week when he was challenged by soldiers who were there, did he come clean.  Now he admits he “conflated” events because he actually was in a trailing helicopter that was not hit by enemy gunfire.  He insists his memory became confused in passing years.

He lied, lied, lied.  You can’t color it any other way.  Just as Hillary lied, lied, lied when she claimed she had come under fire in Bosnia in 1996.  That until entertainer Sinbad said he was there and it didn’t happen.

A Who’s Who of politicians along the ideological continuum is equally guilty of inflating their life stories.

Why do people do these things?  I mean really, why?

I would love to embellish on my own international experiences in the past 30 years  conducting media workshops around the globe helping struggling journalists in Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America. But I won’t lie to you.

I was in Belgrade, Serbia in 2008 when the southern province of Kosovo declared its independence on Sunday, February 18.

While thousands of ethnic Albanian celebrated in the Kosovo capital Pristina, angry Serbians protesting the Kosovo declaration marched through Belgrade, attacked the U.S. Embassy, and damaged several businesses.

Two U.S. foreign service officers and I were sitting in my hotel restaurant with its floor-to-ceiling windows next to our table and a panoramic view of Belgrade protesters.   They chanted, gestured with closed fists, and carried placards denouncing Kosovo independence.

The demonstrators crossed the street and began breaking store windows. Belgrade police arrived, fired rubber bullets, and used tear gas to disperse the crowd.

A police officer quickly entered our restaurant and ordered all of us to step away from the windows so my hosts and I moved to another table. The officer remained with us—ordering a beer and then a cappuccino. I wasn’t sure whether he was more concerned with our safety or his.


Certainly I could have recounted that story by declaring that the protestors in Belgrade threatened us in the hotel. But that would be a lie.

I could say that our restaurant windows were shattered by the angry crowd. But that would be a lie.

I could claim that we feared for our lives as Belgrade police battled with the rampaging mob that destroyed businesses and tossed rocks at authorities. But that would be a lie. We never put down our drinks.

The next morning I walked several blocks from my hotel to the site of my media training. The majority of people I saw had black hair, wore dark leather jackets, and carried small briefcases or purses to work. None looked like me.

I was wearing a tan overcoat, pulling an airplane travel bag, and it was immediately obvious that I was a foreigner from my pale skin, white beard and gray, thinning hair. I could say that angry Serbians already upset with U.S. support of Kosovo might have looked at me suspiciously and I may have been stopped and questioned by the curious. But that would be a lie. I was virtually ignored.

Was I ever physically threatened by anyone? No.

Unlike Brian Williams or Hillary Clinton I don’t have to lie to make my experience seem more dramatic than it is. I don’t have to lie to beef up my bona fides.

Because the truth is I never faced any danger in all the years I worked abroad–often in developing nations in unpleasant circumstances.

I was never shot at, never physically threatened, never was afraid. That’s the truth.  Why lie about it?

Brian and Hillary have to answer for themselves.  And Williams’s mea culpa doesn’t cut it.

Just as Americans let Clinton skate when she lied  about Bosnia, NBC News and many viewers will let this Williams moment fade away, too.  Because we are all too willing to forgive and forget lies instead of holding our public figures and celebrities to a higher standard.

Our failure to repudiate their inexcusable behavior stains us all because our acquiescence to their lies makes us complicit in their unethical behavior.

As Americans we should be better than this. But history shows we are not. Come 2016 Hillary Clinton still will be here and so will Brian Williams.

Perhaps we now will be more skeptical of what they tell us. Unfortunately, I’m not optimistic.

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