So Brian Williams is about to lose his job. Not, unfortunately, for being an overpaid and mostly decorative hairdo who complains about the Internet like he’s my grandpa’s age, but for making up/misremembering/embellishing a story that led to the deaths of absolutely nobody and changed the course of the war he told the story about not one little bit.
How crazy would it be if we scrutinized Dick Cheney’s Iraq statements as closely as we are now examining Brian Williams’?
— Athenae (@Athenae) February 7, 2015
And no, for you in the cheap seats, I don’t think lying is nothing.
I think lying is everything.
And I think it’s very interesting, which liars we punish and which liars we forgive (or at least forget).
Judith Miller is writing a book about her lies. Unless I’ve missed it in that story, it will not be a one-sentence apology followed by a promise to never bother the American public ever again. Nor will the proceeds be donated to a charity dedicated to replacing the limbs blown off the soldiers her words helped send into harm’s way.
George W. Bush wrote a book recently, too, and gives interviews in which he is treated as a sort of retired national mascot, patted on the head and given milkbones. Dick Cheney went on a press tour and whoever was operating the joystick made his mouth move up and down about ISIL a lot. He’s employed by a speaker’s agency, which charges up to $75,000 to send him into a university or corporation, to discuss leadership and politics. Douglas Feith is being published by major newspapers. John Yoo is a free man.
We put Lynndie England on trial for the crimes of Donald Rumsfeld. We debate, vociferously, the merits of presenting Chris Kyle’s story to the public when not every detail of every single person of the hundreds that he killed can be verified. We tell ourselves, when we do this, that integrity matters.
Integrity does matter. Brian Williams is responsible for his exaggerations. Because somebody else told a bigger lie, that doesn’t make a smaller one true. And Brian Williams is not some powerless victim, lest anyone think he’s being nailed to a cross.
But something’s going on here, something little and nasty, where we can only bring ourselves to tear down one small part of a story. Where we can only bring ourselves to call one part of a lie a lie. If it’s just some news anchor, if it’s just some guy on TV, we can study each utterance, find out what is and isn’t real, and call him to account for it.
If it’s our government, our president, his men, well, then, that’s too big a lie to wrap our heads around. That’s too much for us to think about. If the person we voted for, if the people he chose, if they all lied and schemed and embellished and colluded, if they built a world of falsehoods and sent thousands of people into it to die, that means our own memories are suspect. That means they didn’t just lie to us. They helped make it okay for us to lie to ourselves.
If we have to take that apart, then we have to change how we all remember the war. Easier to pick apart how one man talks about it.
That’s the kind of lie we can all agree should be exposed, and for which someone should be punished.