As a journalist, I know how important your reputation is. If you don’t have public trust, you have nothing. If you’re not credible, no one will listen or pay attention to what you have to say.
That hasn’t been a problem for the popular NBC News anchor Brian Williams. That is until now! And now, the latest information being released this morning, is making the public question his integrity even more. As it should.
Williams publicly apologized on NBC nightly news Wednesday, for “misremembering” a story. A story he has reportedly shared on several occasions. Williams claimed to have been in a Chinook helicopter shot down over Iraq 12 years ago. The truth, brought to light in a Stars and Stripes article by servicemen who were there, Williams wasn’t on the helicopter that was shot down but instead an hour behind in another chopper. He learned of the incident only after his chopper landed safely.
And the latest information released today now has people questioning his coverage of harrowing accounts that reportedly occurred in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. The New Orleans Advocate is reporting that some of Williams stories don’t pan out. Including claiming to witness a body floating outside his hotel in the French Quarter. That was apparently a district that never flooded as much as the rest of the city. This new report is also casting doubt on Williams’ claim that he ingested floodwaters and came down with dysentery. The Advocate quotes a local doctor who says he never saw a single case of gastroenteritis during Katrina.
Before this latest information was released this morning, it had me thinking, how many times have you or I “misremembered”. Is this a form of “selective memory.” Did a little research and here’s what I’ve found. Brian Williams may NOT have lied. He may be just experiencing something that afflicts us all at some time. It’s called False Memories. Yes, it does exist and Mr. Williams is not alone. We are all apparently guilty.
So says a 2013 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It found False Memories afflict everyone, even people with the best memories of all. For this study scientists took a sample group of people and broke them in to two categories. People with “highly superior autobiographical memory, or HSAM, and the other with ordinary memory. Both groups were tested for their ability to resist developing false memories. Guess what happened? All of the participants in both groups fell for the lures.When these people recanted stories they were told they included false information they had heard from the investigators and included it in THEIR stories as if they were truth.
Is this what happened to Brian Williams? Trust me, I am in no way trying to defend him. I’m an old school journalist and I don’t understand why NBC hasn’t already removed him. I don’t believe Brian Williams was fed false information. But he was in a war zone where everyone was constantly on high alert. As a result, he did experience some aspects of the events surrounding him. He probably also formed a bond with the servicemen and women around him. How couldn’t he? Is that what influenced and shaped his memories?
I have been working on a series of stories about the impact of serving in our military. You can go to my website SylviaPerez.com and look under Current Projects and see what I’ve been up to. As I have been covering these stories, I have been overwhelmed with the heartache and pain that our servicemen and women have to deal with for voluntarily defending their country. I feel so proud, inspired and connected to these people. It’s what often happens to any journalist when doing stories that you can’t help but get emotionally involved with. But as a journalist, when you relay these stories, it’s your job to separate yourself.
I guess my bottom line is, do I think Brian Williams “lied”? I’m trying to give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he’s the victim of false memory. But the situation is only getting worse now that people are questioning his recall of what happened during Hurricane Katrina. Is he a “serial misrememberer?” I know there’s probably no such thing but are there any other occasions that he “misremembered” while covering news stories and relaying them to the millions of Americans who count on him every night to tell the truth? It almost doesn’t matter anymore. He’s part of an elite, exclusive group. There are only handful of people who have the honor of being given the title of a National Network News Anchor. These people are held to a higher standard because they are reportedly disseminating the news for us as professional journalists and relaying it in a truthful unbiased way. Now that these stories are coming out, can you believe anything Mr. Williams has to say?
No one is perfect. We could all be accused of “misremembering” at some point in our lives. The difference is, none of us is the famous and revered Brian Williams.