By Christian Christensen /Common Dreams
The news that NBC’s Brian Williams was not, in fact, on a helicopter in 2003 that came under fire from an Iraqi Rocket-Propelled Grenade (RPG) should come as a surprise to no one.
Williams had repeated the lie on several occasions over the course of a decade until a veteran, who was on the actual helicopter that was attacked, had enough of Williams’ war porn and called the TV host out on Facebook. In a quite pathetic effort to cover his tracks, the anchor — who makes in excess of $10 million per year — claimed that his fairy tale was, in fact, “a bungled attempt by me to thank one special veteran and by extension our brave military men and women” who had served in Iraq.
Twelve years, it seems, is enough time for Williams to confuse being on a helicopter that came under fire from an RPG with being on a helicopter that did not.
Given that Williams works for NBC, his participation in the construction of a piece of fiction during the US invasion and occupation of Iraq is apt. US network news, together with outlets such as CNN, aggressively cheer-led an invasion predicated on a massive falsehood: the Iraqi possession of WMD.
What is jarring, however, is the fact that Williams’ sad attempt to inject himself into the fabric of the violence is getting more ink and airplay than the non-existence of WMD did back in the early-to-mid 2000s: a lie that provided the justification for a military action that has taken the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians.
From embedded journalists to ultra-militaristic news logos and music, US television news media were more than willing to throw gas on the invasion fire. “Experts” in the studio were invariably ex-generals looking to pad their pensions, while anti-war activists (who spoke for sizable portions of the US and UK populations back in 2003) were avoided like the plague. After all, what news organization wants to be tarred with the “peace” brush when flag-waiving jingoism sells so incredibly well? The one-sidedness of coverage, particularly in the US, bordered on the morally criminal.
Despite some limited soul-searching by journalists a decade after 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq about the abject failure of the US news to engage, in a truly critical fashion, with the falsehoods peddled by the Bush administration, the current focus on an inane untruth told by one celebrity news anchor has overshadowed the bigger picture about the US media and Iraq. And I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
In the post-9/11, pre-invasion period, US citizens proved to be spectacularly misinformed about the 9/11 attacks, Iraq, Al Qaeda, Saddam Hussein and WMD. When the invasion began, many in the US simply had no clue about what was going on.
It’s uncool to misrepresent yourself and your role in the Iraq War. #BrianWilliamsRemembers #GeorgeBushPaints pic.twitter.com/YlxJpLavq2
— Steve Marmel (@Marmel) February 8, 2015
Was that all the fault of the US media? No, but it’s fair to say a pretty large chunk of the responsibility lay at their feet. Then, once the bombing and street fighting became banal and lost its attractiveness to audiences and advertisers, most US media outlets simply abandoned an Iraq left to fend for itself in a vortex of violence, political instability and corruption. And, who wants to talk about that when you can write about Williams upping his War Zone Reporter street cred?
But, if you do want to hear about violence in Iraq, you can rely on Fox News to suggest that this particular hell might also be a liberal conspiracy…
The number of Iraqi citizens who have died as a direct and indirect by-product of the US invasion is enough to populate a mid-sized US city, and thousands continue to die on a monthly basis in non-imaginary attacks.
Yet, here we are, over a decade later, still discussing celebrity fantasies. That isn’t just bad journalism, it’s an affront to all who lost their lives in a brutal and bloody deception. Williams is just sorry about the wrong thing.
Christian Christensen is professor of Journalism at Stockholm University. Follow him on Twitter @ChrChristensen. Originally posted at Common Dreams. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License
John Lawrence says
Bush’s war on Iraq was the beginning of the destabilization and unraveling of the Middle East. It is one of the greatest calamities in human history, and yet there are still many Bush fans around celebrating his endeavors.
Also let’s not forget the # of US service people who have lost their lives or came back with permanent injuries and PTSD and the affect it as on their families. Even those that took part in the atrocities deserve sympathy, respect, and should get the help they deserve. They didn’t pick and choose their war.
Just to be clear, I’m not talking about troops like the Operation Kill team as featured in Rolling Stone Magazine or SGT. Bales.
bob dorn says
Today, 2/10/15, Daily Kos has a tape of Fox News’ super-patriot Bill O’Reilly vilifying a caller who had the nerve to question O’Reilly on his service. O’Reilly had just claimed he would have shot a prisoner of war his unit had taken if the prisoner didn’t turn evidence on his fellow fighters. O’Reilly never served at any time of his life and instead went to grad school. His experience at warfare, like William’s, was as an embedded journalist in an unspecified “Latin American country.” The Daily Kos wonders if O’Reilly will be the subject of criticism from media for fibbing up his bravery.
I’m no fan of O’Reilly but I’ve never heard him say he ever served in the military. I think he was simply speculating what he would have done IF he served.
Ok I listened to the tape. He made it very clear he NEVER served in the military. Again I’m not fan but really something like this just has to be taken with a grain of salt.
bob dorn says
Come on, Goatskull, everything I said describing that tape is true. You may not be a fan of O’Reilly’s but to say “I’ve NEVER heard him say he served” indicates you spend a lot of time with his Holy Highness. If you did watch the tape you know His Holiness had to admit he’d never served in the military only after the caller had to press him for a correction, which caused him to erupt in that tough guy from Boston who’ll Kick Your Ass performance. People like that shit, I suppose.
I don’t know what to tell you. I’ve never heard him say he served in the military and never heard him say anything to give me that impression, even at the beginning of the tape. And no I don’t listen to him or to be more accurate, I rarely do. Pretty much the only time is if someone posts it on FB or some YouTube clip is circulating around the netz. You and I will not agree on this and that’s fine, but to me this is not apples to apples. If some new evidence pops up that he never reported in a war zone and/or he did but was never in any line of fire then that would be different.
Michael B. Difani says
I was a Spec 5 army flight operations specialist at two chopper bases in W. Germany for 30 mos. ending almost 50 yrs. ago. Never saw combat…missed the ‘Nam war. The photo of GW Bush was on the USS Abe Lincoln 35 miles off San Diego in Apr. ’03. Mission Accomplished banner on the con. CNN reporter Miles O’Brien said “The president sure has that fighter pilot strut”…[sic]. His veep, Cheney, had five student deferments during the war. Cheney did do ok as Sec. of Defense during Operations Desert Shield and Storm, early ’91. Kicked Hussein out of Kuwait.