Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, Bob Woodward, and Carl Bernstein – American journalists have long been the citizenry’s watchdog. A sentry at the gate, searching for the truth within, journalists live and die for the integrity of the story. Many have gone to jail protecting our First Amendment and the identities of their sources. Journalists protect the brave innocents who step forward to expose imperfections in our world with the hope of correcting an injustice and put targets on their own backs as a result of such actions. We hail their ranks as our civilian militia, wielding a weapon far mightier than the sword – the pen.
Facts, reports, events, headlines – journalists are trained to report the news, not participate in it – to report objective events devoid of personal perspective allowing the public to draw their own conclusions.
Brian Williams failed in this on two fronts. One embellished story, that he inserted himself into, told over a decade ago has unraveled Williams’ entire career. An embedded reporter is, by default, a participant in military efforts despite their ‘fly on the wall’ objective. But to insert yourself into an event for the sake of a better story attacks basic journalistic rules – report the truth and observe, do not participate.
And that one misrepresentation, whether premeditated or not, draws every story Williams ever reported into question. Many say that it was just one incident, but the larger question is – is it just one incident, or just the first time a misrepresentation was exposed? And that is where Williams’ image lies – in that question.
In today’s world of camera phones, texts, tweets, and chats everyone is a potential witness to world events. A career of fabrication would be difficult to conceal – there are simply too many witnesses, as Williams found out.
Can Williams return from this misstep? Only time will tell. The public is cynical and once trust is lost, it is a hard won prize to regain. But, Americans, as a whole, believe in second chances and redemption, if the seeker is sincere. The real question is, does Williams want to make the effort to win the American trust back? It will be a long and humbling road.
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