I sit slack-mouthed in front of the TV as the host of this News program discusses the “scandal,” the fall-from-grace of Brian Williams, the NBC News Anchor Numero Uno. I now know the name, the face and the story. How could I not, with its being shoved in my face daily by the silly, allegedly News People? Then his Internet Fan Club President, a serious-miened middle-aged woman (from the Mid-West, I presume, because aren’t they all?) says she’s grateful to the Network for re-instating Brian as a News Anchor because she’s missed him. Am I getting a sneak-peak into an Alternate Universe? Is this unstaged, real NEWS?
I accept on the evidence before my eyes that Williams is, indeed, loved by his Network executives and his fans like Mrs.-What’s-Her-Name. Apparently, his great sin was inventing stories of derring-do starring himself while covering the Iraq War. He put himself aboard a helicopter that came under fire at the front. Fact is, never happened. He misremembered, he says, being “in a bad place” then. He’s right about Iraq being a bad place, more so for those with their boots on the ground, rifle in hand, than for Williams.
His fellow journalists brand him with a Scarlet Letter and propose to wash his mouth out with soap, professionally. His fans just want him back on the air brightening up their lives. Old news clips flash on TV of Walter Cronkite, in fatigues and flack jacket, reporting the Vietnam War. Walter Cronkite, the Paragon. I recollect him (who doesn’t?) reporting JFK’s death in Dallas. But I mostly remember him as host of the Sunday night News Program, “You Are There.” In particular, as he reported from the scene at the Sack of Troy. Walter was no-nonsense, just-the-facts-ma’m, in describing the wily stratagem of Ulysses and his band of good-ol’-Greek-boys. No way did Walter imply, even hint, that he was aboard the Trojan Horse when it rolled into history.
Frankly, I’d be the last one to throw stones at Brian Williams for gilding the lily. When I was a cop in the 83rd Precinct in Bushwick, Brooklyn, in the mid-1970s, at end-of-tour we’d all end up in the B & G Bar, couple doors down from the Precinct Station House. And after we liquored up, we’d begin to rewrite freshly-made history. What happened on patrol that night; who did what to whom; how we saved the citizens of NYC from the Barbarians at the Gate—all was recalled, enhanced and fleshed-out, recast as befit good storytelling. The product became the Official Version forever after. Brian would have fit right in, felt to home at the B & G. Except our Bar is long gone, like any reliable memory of what really happened so long ago.
© 2015 Robert Knightly