NBC’s Brian Williams and the Tales of a Self-Made-Up Man


February 10, 2015 14:45 EDT

The stories of NBC’s Brian Williams have crept up with him.

If NBC news anchor Brian Williams ever fabricated a mugging tale (someone check the videotape), you can bet the perpetrator was a black kid in a hoodie. Williams’ fanciful flights tend to favor flight, but sometimes they venture forth by sea-yarn — as in Katrina bodies floating by in puddles of poetic license.

Truth to power? No. Power is truth. That’s the Williams Doctrine.

In all cases, Williams prefers soft targets. This makes him something of a bully in addition to being a liar. When he talks about roving gangs in the French Quarter’s Ritz Carlton, the black faces on the perimeters of his imagination are faintly discernible. Flying with Israeli big brass, he encounters rocket fire from Hezbollah.

Williams is a pro at demonizing the demonized. He’s a company man through and through who always manages, even in his compulsive deceptions, to butter up the boss side of the bread. As for his hard-hitting reportage on Fukushima (that other GE spewer), well, we await that exposé while cesium supplies last — and they’re going to last longer than us. Still, it would be nice to get a high-production closing shot of the final pink clouds.

America let so many things get away from her. How did so little get pumped up into so much and still struggle to fulfill so little? Teleprompter jockeys became the successive voices of a nation. In the best Pentagon speak, a re-baselining of this baseless hyperinflation is in order, otherwise mission creep gets us World War III in Donbass.

News-Reader Job Requirements (in the post-Williams era):

1) Can you read?

2) Can you sit on a stool for 30 minutes without falling off? (Note: This is not as hard as it sounds; the half-hour is spaced with interminable off-air selling orgies.)

3) Do you have an intelligibility problem? (Note: This is not a showstopper either; Bah-bwa Wah-wah and Tom Bwo-kaw made careers out of having us crane our necks to glean what the hell they were on about — what, no football scores? Ahh, why didn’t you tell us?)

4) Can you stick to your employer’s elaborate tissue of lies and keep your private dysfunctions off-camera?

5) Can you accomplish all of this with a jaw-dropping sense of self-importance and shameless dollops of faux-conviction?

Brian Williams © Shutterstock

Brian Williams © Shutterstock

Three years before Walter Cronkite (that other striving high school graduate) joined CBS on the way to becoming the most trusted voice in America, John-Paul Sartre would pay our sea-to-shining-seas a call. No flies on his nausea, Sartre read our faces in a flash. Fifty years before that most hollow emblem of the willing, when freedom fries would stare up at us from happy meals, Sartre had spied the klieg light apparatus arrayed above our heads, calling it the Great Implacable Machine:

“Similarly, when a careful arrangement of those melting-pot notions—puritanism, realism, optimism, and so on—which we have been told are the keys to the American character is presented to us in Europe, we experience a certain intellectual satisfaction and think that, in effect, it must be so. But when we walk about New York, on Third Avenue, or Sixth Avenue, or Tenth Avenue, at that evening hour which, for Da Vinci, lends softness to the faces of men, we see the most pathetic visages in the world, uncertain, searching, intent, full of astonished good faith, with appealing eyes, and we know that the most beautiful generalizations are of very little service: they permit us to understand the system but not the people.”

Sartre the stranger marveled at what befuddling and self-dejected mysteries Americans really were, beyond the endless representations the system demanded they make of themselves. And what durable implacability that system has proven to possess — PhD baristas at Starbucks trained to ask with solicitous banality: “venti or grande,” the pathetic visage and appealing eyes of a bulls**t artist pulling down $10 million a year. Yet just as it all happened improbably enough beneath the same Big Tent, it’s also breaking down with eerie simultaneity.

Williams is merely one thread in a fabric that’s fraying from all ends: the petrodollar, NATO supremacy in satrap Europe, central bank monetary levitation, upward mobility, the heartland’s gumption for marching into one Third World cul de sac after another.

All those beautiful generalizations that took so much thinking off our hands are collapsing — the blame for which the BBC’s Adam Curtis tends to lay at the feet of journalism’s increasingly anachronistic tools. (Yes, the storytelling may be broken. But the narratives broke first, leaving the storyteller to storyboard incoherence and irresolution. Collaged jump-cuts and kick-ass tunage can’t paper over the abyss forever.) PNAC ate our exorbitant privilege and then some. Nobody believes us anymore, including ourselves. Silly Straussians, there never was nobility in lies. Beyond good and evil, it’s evil all the way down. America’s submerged in a Katrina puddle like an exquisite waterlogged corpse.

Who can fault a professional liar for trying to keep up? Brian Williams strove to placate the implacable demands of the American mythmaking machine. Possessed of the character flaws the big lie relishes, he made a decent go of it. However, no man can sustain wall-to-wall bulls**t forever. Somewhere, he’s going to slip up and tell the truth, prompting the inevitable questions of veracity. Only a brand, an implacable machine, can stamp out a perfect string of false notes. (“Brian Williams: Personal Branding Got in the Way of the News” — LA Times.) Caught in a big lie, he retreated to a smaller lie, something about protecting the honor of veterans. Whaa? Oh and Iraq was a clean war too, don’t cha know?

There are no quick solutions — only vague, new paradigms somewhere off in the future. Put a post-grad egghead in that chair tomorrow and ratings would plummet. Detergent would go begging for answers. Besides, who’d serve the coffee? Under natural lighting, whiter-whites reveal an opacity no clean war would dare tolerate. Things would complexify in a heartbeat. People would recoil. Hell, most people don’t give a damn: entertain us with docudrama shrapnel. If it misses the helicopter, edit it for television and lodge it in your thigh. We’re not keeping score.

“Perhaps nowhere else will you find such a discrepancy between people and myth, between life and the representation of life.”

Looks like Williams got caught in Sartre’s cross-hair. But that’s where a consummate bull-sh***er lives — in the TV glare of yawning discrepancy. If someone had any honesty left, they’d fire him.

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The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: Everett Collection /


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