Brian Williams just went from Saturday Night Live Darling
Guest Host and to Saturday Night Live Butt of Jokes.
On the plus side, perhaps people will take the time to dig
deeper for all the angles of a news story rather than take what’s reported at
face value. And that may lead to people actually thinking for themselves and
forming their own knowledgeable opinions rather than taking on the opinions of
talking heads who are paid by networks who are paid by sponsors.
It’s not so much that Brian Williams lied. That is a fact,
it happened. And now the truth is revealed. Instead of shock and anger at Brian,
let’s look at the fundamental issue.
I know, the fundamental issue is that he’s a liar, liar
pants on fire.
But why did he lie?
Is he a bombastic megalomaniac whose ego is so inflated that
a) he manufactures lies to suit his delusional fantasy life of a hard-hitting
journalist, and b) thinks he can get away with lying?
Is he mentally ill?
Is he just a jerk?
Maybe those are all factors.
But I suspect there are other factors that play a role in
Megalomaniacal ego aside, the more sensational the news, the
more viewers tuning in to watch and listen. The more viewers tuning in to
watch, the more the network can charge for advertising minutes. The higher the
advertising rates, the more profit the network pockets.
Yes. Marketing baby, marketing.
It’s all about the money.
I don’t watch a lot of network news. However. I have watched
enough to know that the primary advertisers are pharmaceutical companies and
insurance companies. Those are the two industries with pockets deep enough to
pay the ad rates for top-rated network news programs.
Perhaps Brian took his position at the helm of NBC news a
little too seriously. Perhaps this was a misguided (and, yes, ego driven)
attempt to gain ratings that would in turn lure pharmaceutical companies to
spend millions of dollars to advertise the latest pill for an ailment like
restless leg syndrome. And those 2-minute side-effect disclaimers? Cha-ching!!!
I’m not defending Brian Williams. I’m just saying that “we”
may have played a role in fueling his reporting puffery. The collective we, the
public who keep current with news, have become desensitized and disaffected.
Nothing surprises us, nothing shocks us. When we watch the news it barely
garners our attention. The “big” stories barely generate a cynical smirk or sad
tut tut. We’ve seen it all, or at least we feel that way.
What’s a network news program to do? They need us to tune in
because they need that ad revenue. How do they get our attention so that we
tune in? Sensationalize! In the words of Don Henley, “get the widow on the
set…” We, the disaffected, expect more! grittier! bloodier! scarier!
shocking-ier! salacious-ier! scandal-ier!
And we want to know it first! Before anyone else tweets it! Tell us now,
tell us more, tell us something no one else knows! Then we can tweet or post
something to Facebook that will get views and likes and retweets and
We’re a lot like Brian. Social media has created a yearning
within us (the collective us) to appear relevant. Smarter, cleverer, cuter,
funnier…faster. First. When, in fact, we’re (the collective we) are just a
bunch of gossiping nitwits regurgitating the same info other gossiping nitwits
are regurgitating. Which fuels the need for more sensational and exclusive news
to post in order to rise above the other gossiping nitwits…and so it goes. #IPostedItFirst
What fuels the office gossiper? The need for control. The
need for an ego stroke. The need for attention. The need to manipulate. The
need for revenge. The need to deflect inadequacies. The need know everything,
even if knowing everything means exaggerating one small bit of information to
an all-out noteworthy event. “Mary went to the bathroom twice in one hour”
turns into “Mary is snorting coke in the ladies room” or “Mary is pregnant.” Speculation-as-truth.
What fuels the office gossiper? Insecurity.
How do you stop a gossiper? Call their bluff. Fire back with
irrefutable truths. Defend the person who is the target of the gossip. Or.
Recognize them for what they are and then don’t engage. Don’t listen. Ignore
We (collective) bear some culpability in the Brian Williams
Story. Yes, he’s the one who lied, but we’re the ones who tweet and post to
Facebook. We’re the ones who did not call his bluff or and did not stop
listening. We’re the ones who blindly believed. Sure, we had a right to trust a
credible news source. And that trust was betrayed. But we demanded more and we
demanded it first and fastest. Had we been more patient, more willing to wait
for facts rather than sensationalized speculation we wouldn’t have been fueling
Brian Williams’ ego or his need to attract our attention with reports unlike
any we were hearing elsewhere.
No, I’m not blaming the victim (us). I am saying let’s lead
by example and do what Brian should have done. Give the issue some thought. Don’t
be so quick to assess blame. Be interested in facts rather than garnering followers
and “likes” and retweets.