The facts aren’t all in yet, but from a distance it looks more and more as if Brian Williams simply couldn’t resist gilding the lily.
The “why” seems straightforward – and sad – to me. Many people, journalists, actors, athletes, have a hole in the middle that cannot be filled, no matter the amount of public attention/adoration that comes their way. They’re always in the business of seeking more, and it often comes to a bad end.
Add to that the peculiar job evening news anchors have these days, as the titular head of the news for a given network, but gnawed away at by the knowledge that they’re selling erection pills, incontinence pads and other nostrums. It’d be enough to make anyone insecure.
I stole the last idea from David Carr. More on that great loss in a moment.
I didn’t realize how good Bob Simon was until I saw excerpts from a lot of his work all at once this week, during the various CBS tributes to him. He was hailed as a master story-teller, and I’d add that there is a settledness to his reporting, a kind of Newtonian classicism, no matter how messy the subject. Here is Bob Simon, there is the world, and there is a bright line between him and it. That in no way diminishes his achievement; he worked within the established order of tv journalism at a high level, used the tools of the trade to tell splendid stories. TV news could use more Bob Simons, and I don’t know where they will come from.
David Carr was both more modern than Simon – he was an ongoing character in his stories – and a throwback to the pre-college, pre-“this is a profession” days of journalism, when you called journalists “reporters” and living a messy life was close to a condition of employment. Carr’s tale of sin and redemption is well-known, and I think a lot of his secret was how he carried forward the sinner in his redeemed years at the New York Times. Carr could be tough, very tough, but I always thought there was a “there but for the grace of…” quality to his writing, an understanding that sin is always on the table, the next fall is right around the corner and the natural human condition is to be weak. He was the most empathetic of reporters on a beat – media – that breeds snark easily. In recent days, he wrote especially well of the Brian Williams mess. You could do a lot worse than to have David Carr on your case.