Brian Williams has been relieved of duty. The powers at NBC have concluded that one tall tale invented in the mind of their most recognizable newsman was grievous enough to dismiss their most recognizable newsman for six months without pay. The statement they're making is important: that honesty matters. That liars should be punished. That news should be presented accurately and with truth.
Or at least that should be good. Unfortunately, the lesson will be lost in the din of 24 hour news networks.
Because FOX News has been lying for years.
Because CNN has been lying for years.
Because MSNBC has been lying for years.
Because CBS has been lying for years.
Because the truth is not sexy. The truth does not sell ad space. The truth does not lure in gullible viewers. The truth is that the culture of always-on news reporting encourages a stretching of the truth. Blood sells. Drama sells. Controversy sells. The more exciting, the more alluring, the better. The talking heads need to distort, omit, or invent facts to enhance their stories. Otherwise, it is just dull or appalling.
We live in a bizarro world where no-spin zones are filled with spin, where newsrooms resemble movie studios. Pick a major network - any of them, and you have a good chance of seeing someone lie.
I am not complaining about the bias. Everyone is biased and it is natural for viewers to seek out news programs that confirm their preexisting biases. So it does not bother me that FOX News leans right and MSNBC leans left. I do not care if news programs favor liberal or conservative viewpoints. What irks me is when news makers quickly and intentionally present demonstrably inaccurate "facts." And when it comes to news, everybody lies.
Yes, everybody. (infographic courtesy of PunditFact - click graphic for easier to read version)
Honesty matters. So I think it's good that NBC has suspended Brian Williams. But I wish that all news networks would follow that example. I would love to see more pundits disciplined for their dishonesty. Granted, (for some networks) that would result in a suspension of their entire staff.
Instead of mass layoffs and upheaval, maybe there should be a revolution in the way news is presented. What if there was more fact checking? What if anchors and new personalities offered more corrections and apologies for their inaccuracies? What if there was less infotainment and more information? What if the FCC fined networks for lies the same way they impose fines for indecencies? (Example: Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction.)
Truth is, none of those options will happen. We are to blame for this proliferation of lies in media. We allow it by consuming it. As long as they are getting the ratings they are going to keep doing what they have always done. We reward the liars by watching and accepting their lies.
Do you want to see more truthful news? Then turn off the TV.