In Good Will Hunting, Will breaks sessions of silence with his psychiatrist the only way he knows how—with a joke involving blowjobs and a plane. Will (Matt Damon) tells the now infamous “Don’t forget the coffee” joke in the first-person and then the psychiatrist (Robin Williams, R.I.P.) gently asks Will if he’s ever been on a plane. Will brushes it off: “No, but it’s a fuckin’ joke. It works better if I tell it in the first person.” Indeed, it does…
“Don’t forget the coffee,” explains exactly what Brian Williams did when he spun himself right into the chopper whopper debacle. Both stories even take place in the sky. Perhaps the fantasy of flight makes men feel a little whimsical. Who knows?
Anyway, I don’t buy the whole “misremembering” bit, and it’s a good thing. Personally, I’d rather get the news from a guy who embellishes a little than some guy who can’t remember whether he almost plummeted to a fiery death by grenade. The former needs a stern talking to, and the latter probably needs to be institutionalized. Do you understand the distinction?
It hasn’t been just the facts for a while now. “Serious” journalists chase drama, they plant nostalgia, and maybe sometimes they bluff their experiences, all the while muttering about an Emmy.
However, the fact that Brian Williams was suspended for six months for forgetting the coffee seems a little harsh and, what’s more, hypocritical. Every storyteller embellishes. I do it, your friends do it, and journalists absolutely, most especially are paid to do it. To treat these “serious” journalists like they are anything other than categorical storytellers is the biggest and most egregious joke of all.
I don’t know what the major networks and their local news affiliates are trying to pull exactly. Maybe they assume since your average Joe has never seen news being produced, they can play fast and loose with the journalistic standards they set in the first place. But as someone who’s been in a newsroom and seen serious journalists in the field, I can tell you it hasn’t been just the facts for a while now. They chase drama, they plant nostalgia, and maybe sometimes they bluff their experiences, all the while muttering about an Emmy.
I’m not saying this is the rule, but it’s not the exception either. What’s more, it most certainly is not these journalists’ fault. At first, they were up against Hollywood entertainment, and now, they’re up against the Internet. In any event, there is enormous pressure from the very networks upbraiding Brian Williams for lying to do just that: Find an angle. Spin the story. For anyone in those circumstances, the line between entertainment and news gets blurry.
And yet, we’re not supposed to know this. In fact, traditional media protects the facts, and it’s new media that can’t be trusted. After all, some of those goons use the first person when they report something they haven’t even experienced (or pretended to experience, cough) firsthand. They’re biased, and they editorialize. But isn’t that all there is? And should I mind an individual with a slight personal agenda more than a corporation with a billion-dollar one? Who can we trust?
We could have put a Brian Williams photo here. But you know what he looks like.
Perhaps my generation doesn’t care about the news, per se, but it’s not because we’re the willfully ignorant and depraved youth traditional media (no shocker) has made us out to be. It’s the Information Age—if we need to know something, we’ll Google it. They’ve compiled more sources than any, gasp, serious journalist. What can news really bring to the table?
Well, aside from curation, some subjectivity and insights would be nice. Just because we know it all,doesn’t mean another person can’t light the conversation. And that’s what it’s all about: sharing, interaction and discussion, not just static delivery.
Brian Williams has a responsibility to the public, and so he needs to be held accountable. But what about the networks and the very way they’ve continued to produce news? If broadcast journalists are not to be entertainers, let me ask one question: What’s up with the way they talk? No one talks like that anymore. And don’t even get me started on their hair.
True, Brian Williams can’t totally be trusted. (Really, who can?) But I don’t fault him for forgetting the coffee after years of telling good stories, and I don’t see how anyone else conceivably can. To me, this just reveals the writings on the wall. If anyone’s representative right now of the relic news once was, I’d say it’s Brian Williams, and when a business goes under, everything must go. Perhaps we’re just tired of the pomp and circumstance, the ceremony and the hair. So Will, it’s time to get real.