In a news cycle, the report that Brian Williams is taking a brief sabbatical is already old. But what does it mean?
The last time we had a major news anchor step down it was definitely a political move. Dan Rather dared to expose George W. Bush’s service records. I don’t know which was worse: that a trusted name in news who covered in person some of the major news of his era was deposed or that we were subjected to the mind numbingly boring subject of kerning. Count me among the people who believe the records were genuine. His political enemies took him out anyway. That was to meant to be an example to the rest of us. Step over the line and we will finish you.
We all know how hyping misinformation can ruin a person’s reputation. This is what Vince Foster complained about before he committed suicide. But what could be behind this latest attack on the news?
Could it be a warm up to making Hillary Clinton’s campaign a living hell? Hmmm. Interesting possibility. But she’s been through this stuff before and she continues to learn from her experiences. That should trouble the opposition greatly. There’s nothing worse than someone who continually gets whaled on who figures it out. It could still be a rough campaign season if she decides to run but the results might not be as predictable as they were 20 or even 8 years ago.
Could it be something that has happened in the wake of the FCC chairman’s decision to treat the internet as a public utility? I have no idea how Williams’ forced leave would tie into that but telecomm/networks are not happy about that decision, even if we don’t know exactly how it would play out yet. Maybe they’re getting their ducks in a row for some serious push back. MSNBC is (was) seen as slavishly devoted to Obama so who knows.
Following up on that, maybe NBC needs a more compliant anchor going into the 2016 campaign season. You know, someone like Keith Olbermann in 2008 who will sell out his principles in order to push one candidate over another. Someone without so many annoying scruples. Hmmm, who could it be, who could it be?
Or maybe this is a symptom of a much more serious problem. Maybe the military is getting way too powerful and is indicating its willingness to call the shots. Brian Williams becomes its new poster child. Even mild transgressions will be punished severely.
[Slightly off topic: Although I have seen some grants restored in the wake of the disastrous sequester of 2013, I am still running into people who continue to be laid off or quit academia as a result of losing grant money. In the last month, I met three more academic scientists, a biochemist, a pharmacologist, and a neuroscientist who are out of work. They all had PhDs and were long time employees of a major university here. The neuroscientist told me that the grants for disease related research he had worked on had been replaced with grants from the DOD for research on traumatic brain injury. If you want to study that, which is important, the grant money is great. If you want to study dementia or some other brain disease, ehhhh, not so much. So, he left. The couple said grants had pretty much dried up for them as well and it seemed to be the primary way their salaries were funded, so they were out. Well, if you’re a conservative legislator, maybe you don’t think medical research is something the government should be doing. That’s something the private sector should be doing. Maybe they missed the memo on translational research. Or maybe all that sciencey stuff reminds them too much of climate research. Traumatic brain injury is more concrete. It’s something they can wrap their heads around, and their constituents at home, who sent a $#*!load of young healthy servicemen to get blown up in Iraq, are demanding it. Who knows? I only speculate. But if you are suffering from schizophrenia or heart disease, well, you’re SOL again. Better to get your noggin scrambled by an IED.]
Anyway, getting back to the military, now that the House and Senate are run by Republicans, I expect the military to get even more of the precious tax revenue that we can’t bring ourselves to spend on other stuff like, oh, I don’t know, student loans, crumbling bridges and school lunches. The defense contractors may see themselves as a previously underprivileged group that now has the total attention of legislators. This is maybe the reason why standing armies were considered problematic once upon a time. If you have them sitting around, all geared up with nothing to do, they’re going to get antsy.
Better not cross them.
Again, just idle speculation…
Update: I rarely read MoDo anymore but her column today is about Brian Williams. She says his tendency to exaggerate was well known among other journalists. He used to do it in private. It may have been doing it on TV that brought him down. The Facebook pushback got too hot.
Oh, please. This is silly. You don’t take out an anchor because people don’t like the way he tells his war stories. Did the US military embed journalists when they went to Iraq or didn’t they?
I’m not buying this very facile explanation. There’s a reason why Williams is getting the boot. We just don’t know what it is yet.
Here’s another post musing on why Williams is about to get the sack. Three possible reasons are cited but the bottom line is that if Williams’ war stories rise to the level of dismissal, there are a whole bunch of anchors and journalists who deserve it as well. Why single out this guy?
One other thing: TV and cable news are baaaad for you. They can make your brain rot. It’s bad because the audio portion combined with imagery can be crafted in such a way as to provoke a strong emotional response. Emotional responses to important events can short circuit rational responses to those events. They can make you want to start a stupid, money sucking land war in Asia. I don’t watch TV and cable news but I can’t stop anyone else from watching. All I can do it point out that you’re vulnerable to button pushing if you do watch it.
I also don’t listen to NPR anymore either. After it hired Juan Williams and others during the Bush era, I just felt it had drifted too far away from its original mission. This was probably not NPR’s fault but when political appointees started messing around with PBS and NPR funding, erosion of standards was bound to happen. I can’t listen to it now. My ears detect too much change. It’s just sad. As Sinclair Lewis once said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”
I get my news from written sources and my eyes carefully scan the text for trigger words.