If Brian Williams, the anchor and face of NBC News, goes, others should march right out the door behind him.
Williams, in 2003, filed a report about his experiences in Iraq. He accurately reported that a helicopter an hour in front of his took fire from an RPG. But over the years the story morphed into Williams claiming that his helicopter took an incoming RPG and other small arms fire. Other stories Williams told and filed are under review, including apparently exaggerated or false claims filed or stated during Hurricane Katrina. Williams claimed he saw a dead body floating in the street outside his New Orleans hotel, and that his hotel had been assaulted by gangs. Neither of which apparently is true.
Due to concerns about the credibility of the $10-million-a-year newsreader, NBC announced Williams’ six-month unpaid “suspension.” Now six months is forever. When his replacement, the capable Lester Holt, settles in, soon it will likely be, “Brian, who?”
But what’s the moral to the story — that we hold reporters to a high expectation of accuracy and journalistic integrity? Really? Williams works for the same company that gives an hour-long nightly platform to the Rev. Al Sharpton, America’s preeminent race-card hustler.
As to Hurricane Katrina, reporters filed false story after story about murders, gunshots and rapes, many discredited — and many irresponsibly injecting the race issue. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, for example, said, “You simply get chills every time you see these poor individuals … so tragically, so many of these people, almost all of them that we see, are so poor, and they are so black, and this is gonna raise lots of questions for people who are watching this story unfold.” The ill treatment, Blitzer suggested, resulted from racism.
As for the importance of accuracy, CNN’s Fareed Zakaria stands credibly accused of serial plagiarism. The left-of-center British publication The Week published a piece headlined, “Why Does Fareed Zakaria Still Have a Job?” Correspondent Ryan Cooper wrote: “CNN and Washington Post star Fareed Zakaria has committed dozens of acts of plagiarism and intellectual dishonesty. But Zakaria has not been hounded out of his job and shamed in the public square, as one would expect. Instead, he continues to go about his business as if nothing happened, revealing a disturbing double standard in the media industry.”
Over at “60 Minutes,” the married Steve Kroft reportedly bragged to his mistress that he enjoys a cozy relationship with President Barack Obama, whom Kroft calls “Barry.” Conservatives have long accused Kroft of lobbing softball questions at Obama. Does Kroft’s self-described status as Obama’s “go-to” guy confirm conservatives’ suspicion that he’s in the tank for Obama? Crickets.
If exaggerations about war and war zones are career-ending for Brian Williams, does it apply to politicians?
Hillary Rodham Clinton, who could become our next president, falsely claimed that during a 1996 trip to Bosnia she took incoming fire. In 2008, she claimed: “I remember landing under sniper fire. There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base.” But videotape showed no running, no head down, no snipers, no First-Lady-as-Rambo. And, as pre-arranged, she met a young Bosnian girl for the “greeting ceremony.”
Sen. Tom Harkin, D?Iowa, served 30 years in the Senate, after 10 years in the House. From the book, “Stolen Valor,” B.G. Burkett writes: “During a 1984 bid for reelection to the Senate … Harkin boasted that he had served one year in Vietnam flying F-4s and F-8s on combat air patrols and photo-reconnaissance support missions. Challenged by Sen. Barry Goldwater, Harkin did a quick shuffle, claiming that he had actually flown combat sorties over Cuba during the sixties. Harkin finally admitted that he had not seen combat but had served as a ferry pilot stationed in Atsugi, Japan, flying aircraft to be repaired from Atsugi to the Philippines. When pressed by reporters to explain how much time he had really spent in Vietnam, Harkin estimated that over a year, he flew in and out of Vietnam a dozen or so times. But Harkin’s military record showed no Vietnam service decorations. He finally conceded he had not flown combat air patrols in Vietnam and began describing himself as a Vietnam era vet.”
What about Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who — many times — falsely claimed he served “in Vietnam” and that he faced hostility when he “returned”? In fact, he received five deferments after which, the New York Times reported, “He landed a coveted spot in the Marine Reserve, which virtually guaranteed that he would not be sent to Vietnam. He joined a unit in Washington that conducted drills and other exercises and focused on local projects, like fixing a campground and organizing a Toys for Tots drive.” He now calls himself a “Vietnam-era vet.”
But tales and puffery are unacceptable over at NBC. Not to worry, though. Brian Williams still has options. He can announce his candidacy for the 2016 presidential race — as a Democrat.
Larry Elder is a best-selling author and radio talk-show host.