Honesty, the media, and the shrinking public trust

It seems as if NBC’s Brian Williams is the latest national media figure to fall from grace after he told what is either an embellishment or a lie about an experience he’d previously talked about on television. When caught, Williams did the right thing and apologized. Time to move on? Well, no.

Now, Williams’ every personal statement is being stress-tested for truth and his comments about seeing a body floating in the French Quarter during his coverage of Hurricane Katrina are being called into question.

The New Orleans Advocate reports:

Williams’ account of seeing a body float by in the French Quarter — which remained largely dry — and even a claim of catching dysentery from drinking Katrina floodwaters have raised eyebrows among bloggers and elsewhere since he took it on the chin this week over a claim that he rode in a helicopter that was downed by a rocket-propelled grenade in Iraq.

While the substance that is in dispute, so far, is trivial, the act of lying, for what can only be some sort of self-aggrandizement, just isn’t acceptable from a journalist in general, and a network’s most senior anchor and editor, in particular. At this point in his career, with the prestige he had, until yesterday, Williams hardly needed heroics to help boost his career. Whatever psychological or other pressures he may be under caused this behavior should be of great concern to his employers. How long has Williams been engaging in this behavior? How many more fibs are out there to be discovered? Might the problem have seeped into his reporting?

Our nation is at a very low point when it comes to trust in its institutions and public figures and the incidences in which ethics are the core of the problem. This mistrust was all the more apparent in the swiftness with which the firestorm over Williams was started, and the fact that it remains at the top of trending news items.

I especially appreciated Williams’ talent for rap. It reminded me of that other news anchor I really like, Dan Rather, whose Texas twang and down home cliches were so refreshing… Dag nabbit, I hate losing a good guy!

The shock and disappointment from so many trusted veteran news people crossing over to Fox News after decades of service as senior network journalists has added to the dwindling public trust in American institutions. So, losing yet another beloved and trusted journalist to a personal failing will only add to an already robust erosion process that is in progress.

We are a nation in trouble.

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