The Truth Must Not Be Compromised

I read this morning that newscaster Brian Williams had admitted to misspeaking about being in a military aircraft that was hit in combat. Williams stated that he had apparently conflated the situation, blending it in his mind and mixing his actual in-combat experiences with stories he’d heard from others who had actually been shot down. This has led to the question of compromised journalistic integrity, and how to handle it.

The idea of conflating, or blending two ideas or experiences, is not a new problem. It’s a trick of the mind that causes us to think we’ve experienced things we’ve not. There have been many courtroom cases where persons on the witness stand were manipulated to positively believe that they saw or heard things that were later proven inaccurate. The idea has also called into question revelations to psychiatrists, who used the power of suggestion to plant the seed of an idea in patients’ mind, causing them to “remember” things that didn’t happen. This has been especially frequent in childhood abuse cases, where sometimes “suppressed memories” have emerged upon intense suggestion by the analysts, some accusations of which have been highly questionable.

I know that I myself often find myself questioning some of my memories, “remembering” things that I know I could not have experienced, or embellishing in my mind things that I did, and can empathize with Mr. Williams. He has proven himself over and over, with a remarkable, honorable career.  I am awed and inspired by the man’s dedication to his craft, by his countless forays into dangerous situations to inform to the public, by his unwavering desire to present the facts on what is happening in the world, and by his honest sincerity and humanity in reporting. But I am also a firm supporter of journalistic integrity, and his has now been called into question. Journalistic integrity is one of the most important fundamentals of democratic life. If we have the slightest doubt about what our reporters are presenting, we have to somehow suspect that their reports are little more than glorified adventures or, worse, biased opinions.

Deciding on a course of action will be difficult for the powers that be, as Mr. Williams has always proven himself an impeccable journalist, but whatever the outcome, I would like to thank him now for his many years of graceful, elegant, and sincere reporting of the news.

1 Comment

  • By Dianne, February 11, 2015 @ 9:10 am

    Thank you for your article on Brian Williams. You have clarified so many things about what reporters face. I enjoyed reading all the facts you covered. I’ve enjoyed Mr. Williams books, and I too would like to thank him now whatever the outcome will be, for his many years of reporting the news.

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