“Daddy,” my young son said, looking deeply into my eyes, “why did Uncle Brian Williams lie to us?” You see, my wife and I trusted the host of the NBC Nightly News so absolutely, so unerringly, that we insisted our son think of the 12-time Emmy winner as his own uncle.
Looking back on it now, that seems almost naïve.
“I’m not sure,” I said, holding his gaze as I fought back a tear. “But if you can’t trust the handsome, rich white man that the megacorporation puts on television to tell us what to think, goddammit, who can you trust?”
My son started crying then and I started crying, and my wife and my other son came in the room and they both started crying, and my parents called me right then and they were already crying, about something unrelated, and we were all crying because we realized at that moment that we had lost our innocence.
We, as a nation, lost our innocence that day, meaning Wednesday. I’m not sure how many more times we, as a nation, can lose our innocence, to be honest with you, because it’s starting to get a little ridiculous.
When Williams finally admitted that he wasn’t really in that helicopter, citizens reacted much like I did: with rage and bloodlust and righteous indignation. For most Americans, this was our first encounter with deception. But as sad and disorienting as it was, we could at least take from it one solid fact: none of us would ever do such a thing, could never be capable of it, and we were, if nothing else, better overall human beings than Brian Williams, who is a bad human being.
That felt good.
But there’s something deeper at play here, something more nefarious than most realize. For the careful observer, it almost seems like Williams’ lies could merely have been the latest in a long string of incidents in which prominent individuals have not been completely honest.
Consider these examples: When those Sony emails were recently leaked to the public, we were all shocked to learn that movie executives can sometimes be hurtful and dishonest. But did we learn our lesson? Or what about the time that Lance Armstrong lied about using steroids when he rode his bicycle around in all those bicycle races? We were positively scandalized as a nation—but did we learn then? Or what about the politician who lied not once, but multiple times, and was still allowed to keep his or her job and have influence over events? We definitely should have learned our lesson that time, but did we?
As a lie-hating American, I am here to say that I, for one, have finally learned my lesson. I just fear that, with Brian Williams disgraced and, for all I know, dead in a ditch somewhere, there may be no one left for us to trust.
Folks, I am a trusting person. Unless you give me a reason not to, I will believe just about anything you say—and by “give me a reason not to,” I literally mean call me pretending to be my elderly father, who’s stuck in Mexico, and trick me into wiring you $3,000. It takes a lot to lose my trust. But when Brian Williams—or should I say, “Deceiving” Williams—lied about getting into that helocopter crash in Iraq it was like I was wiring that $3,000 to Mexico all over again. (Technically, for a third time.)
Can I ever trust anyone?
Can I trust my son?
Can I trust my wife?
Can I trust myself? How many times have I gone into work and repeated, verbatim, every word from Williams’ newscast from the night before to my admiring colleagues? But now, I’ll have to say, “Sorry, I was lying to you about the bumper corn crop in Iowa, and the new jobs report. I was also lying when I told you the Patriots won the Super Bowl, and when I told you about that cool commercial I saw during the NBC Nightly News, well, I was lying then, too.”
All of it is called into question now!
Did Brian Williams lie? Yes. Did he also maybe lie about Hurricane Katrina? Yes. Should he lose his job? Yes. Should he be physically harmed? Maybe. Should he have to look my son in the eye and explain to him why his Uncle Brian Williams lied to him? Yes. Should this be recorded if possible and posted to YouTube in hopes of landing a viral hit? Yes. Should I title the video “Kate Upton Nude Sex Bieber” to boost traffic? No. That would be dishonest.
Above all else, I’m disappointed. I was looking for truth and I got lies. I was looking for integrity, and I got deceit. I was looking for an unbiased news program I could trust and I got Brian Williams.
Perhaps it’s time to give cable news a try.