So Brian Williams, my favourite American news anchor, had his Nightly News chair pulled out from under him for at least six months and likely forever. For years, Williams has been telling this amazing story about how in 2003 he was in a U.S. Army helicopter behind enemy lines in Iraq when they were hit by a rocket-propelled grenade and AK-47 fire. After a crash landing, in which nobody was hurt, they survived a massive sandstorm surrounded by U.S. tanks and Bradley vehicles.
Williams told the story with great detail and passion at parties, leaving people speechless. When he told the story on Late Night, David Letterman called him an American hero. When he told the story to the U.S. military newspaper The Stars And Stripes, the pilot-in-command of the downed chopper said: “Brian, you weren’t there!”
The truth is, Brian Williams arrived in another helicopter shortly after the incident happened. Apparently he “misremembered” the events of that day and has been embellishing them ever since. It’s not exactly former President Richard Nixon swearing he knew nothing about all those guys he sent to burglarize the Democratic headquarters at the Watergate Hotel, but when a news anchor looks straight into the camera and says “Good evening,” what follows is supposed to be fact. No reporter of the news will ever capture audience trust like the great Walter Cronkite, but Williams came pretty close and his stellar ratings reflected it.
Nonetheless, I believe this is an excellent opportunity for all journalists, be they TV, print or radio, to fess up to any fibs or exaggerations they may have made in the past. I’m not casting aspersions, but I have always had grave doubts about any news reported by a woman named “Poppy.” Also Al Roker makes me nervous. Nobody should have that much fun talking about killer tornadoes and fatal wildfires.
In the wake of the Brian Williams scandal, I think it would be a good time for all media types to take a long look in the mirror and start their next story with the Latin words mea culpa which means “what the hell was I thinking?!” Let me be the first to voluntarily step forward.
In reflecting back to the 70’s, I have often said that “I lived in Spain for two years,” when, in fact, I spent two non-consecutive years in that country, using it as a base to visit Morocco and Portugal, etc. I did not intentionally mean to mislead readers of this column.
And no, I did not interview Neil Armstrong in the cockpit of Apollo II. This was more mistaken identity than an outright lie. I actually interviewed Louis Armstrong at the Apollo Theater in Harlem during the late 40’s and he threw me out of his dressing room after refusing to answer any questions about the moon landing. Let’s just say we were both confused.
Also, as a married father of four grown children now successfully completing the Walmart Greeters Training Program in Cheektowaga, NY, I should not have subscribed to the online dating service eHarmony under the name Stud McMuffin. Frankly, I was overwhelmed by their free trial offer and that photo of a scantilly-clad Claudette riding a palomino along the surf of a deserted beach. I really like horses.
I never sat in with the Beatles and nor did I claim to. It was a typo. Once, at an outdoor wine tasting, I slipped off the end of a picnic table and landed on a colony of blister beetles. The rash lasted four years and the nickname “Ringo” haunts me still.
On at least three occasions, I have made the claim to playing professional hockey with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Although that’s true, I’d still like to take this opportunity to publicly deny it in writing. By using the words “professional” and “Toronto Maple Leafs” I may yet face a suspension of six months.
And okay – full disclosure – I was not an eye witness to the original nativity scene in the town of Bethlehem, Judea, which is now the West Bank. I happened to be staying in the same barn, three mangers down from where the blessed event took place. Some time during the night, I heard a donkey braying and then a lot of people yelling and clapping and I figured, it was just a Christmas party getting out of control. Frankly, I was more concerned about a bunch of shepherds who had checked into the stall next to mine with a goat, a barbeque and two kegs of meade. With the passing of so much time, I “misremembered” the events of that day. There was a lot of “myrrh toking” going on back then. Mea culpa.
For comments, ideas and copies of The True Story of Wainfleet, go to www.williamthomas.ca