What Veterans Think When the Media Gets it Wrong

Apologies by NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams  a decade later,  for his false claim of being on a helicopter forced down by Iraqi rocket fire in 2003.
Apologies by NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams a decade later, for his false claim of being on a helicopter forced down by Iraqi rocket fire in 2003.

by Michael J.R. Schindler

Brian Williams, the NBC Nightly News anchor, is taking some heat for “misremembering” an event in Iraq that took place in 2003. According to his original version of events, he was aboard a helicopter that was downed by an RPG. Last week, he recanted that version only after several soldiers who were involved called into question Mr. Williams’ version of events.

He apologized for his false statement and NBC is now launching an internal investigation.

Aside from Mr. Williams’ character and credibility being called into question, some are questioning whether today’s media is more about storytelling and less about reporting the facts and truth. After all, isn’t it the “story” that grabs the attention of the viewer more than the details?

Do details matter? When the media gets it wrong on Veterans issues or events, Veterans notice.

For some Veterans, the details (aka “truth”) are incredibly important; for others, they are willing to provide grace and move past the issue if past actions outweigh the one or two moments of bad judgment.

Joe Davis, an Air Force Veteran who served his country for 24 plus years and then went into the non-profit sector, now serving as the national spokesman for Veterans of Foreign War, found Williams’ embellishment “reprehensible,” and further stated “that he [Williams] has no idea what “direct fire” means.”


Younger Veterans, like Paul Rieckhoff, founder and CEO of IAVA (Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America) seemed a bit more forgiving. “Persecuting him over this mistake will do little to help our veterans and service members. I am confident that in years ahead, Brian will continue to dedicate himself to our vets — as he always has — and inspire others to do the same.”

Generational differences? Condemnation vs. Grace? There are so many directions one can go with this.

But why is this Williams’ issue more front page than the over-hyped myth that most Veterans suffer from PTSD? (Most Veterans don’t suffer from PTSD.) Or why is the 22 veteran suicides a day a backseat issue to Mr. Williams’ “misremembering” how events took place a dozen years ago?

A credible storyteller matters in reporting – and there is little doubt that consequences will be administered. But let’s focus on real issues when it comes to Veterans and their families…like what happens after the homecoming hugs.

Bottom line: the details typically matter to those personally involved. Sure, the Williams’ incident raises some eyebrows – and there should be consequences for his admitted actions – but does this incident warrant a Scarlet Letter around his neck? I’m rather certain this incident is a great reminder to all journalists to “stay true to the facts.”

Oh. One last note: Mr. Williams is also being questioned for a story he reported during the Katrina natural disaster that he may have also embellished. My dad told me that if I tell the truth in life I won’t have to remember what I said when I’m questioned. Good thing because my memory seems to be slipping – but nonetheless, I’m thinking I should just confess now to all my dirty laundry so I don’t become tomorrow’s news story.

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  1. Hillary is exactly who I thought of as soon as I found out about this lying talking head.

    “Unfortunately for Williams, he is not a politician but a journalist — his profession is one in which lying is still, technically, frowned upon”

    Amazing but true- we actually expect our politicos to lie to us!

    “Clinton and Harkin are just two in a long history of politicians who’ve exaggerated — or flat-out lied — about their war experience. In fact, some might consider it a political tradition”

    How is this acceptable? If this is a career-ender for Williams, it should be for Clinton too. We need to make this manifest.

    We don’t expect media people to lie to us? Should we not fear an appointment with the dentist either? What weird alternative reality do people live in?

  2. Almost a decade ago, I wrote an article ‘Are we being spun?’ Nothing seems to have CHANGED, in fact it seems to have gotten worse. I Love it whenever I come across a piece of writing or speech that says something that encapsulates or perfectly NAILS A LIE that is being committed and lays it out for all to see. It is called: “WITNESSING THE TRUTH.” It is the only way to fight the ugliness that is put forth everyday by the people that have bent the reality to their own uses.

    Those who have been misinforming their audiences are intelligent enough to know that they are deceiving their viewers.

    In what appears to be an attempt to outfox the Fox News Network,the more liberal networks of NBC, MSNBC, CBS, ABC and CNN now propagandize their viewers with “outright lies.”

    Harvard Professor Stephen Walt reports that as early as 2005, 78 percent of the news media, 72 percent of military leaders and 69 percent of foreign affairs specialists believed that backing Israel seriously damages America’s image around the world.

    That factual revelation isn’t something you hear on TV. If 78 percent of the news media hold that belief, they are not reporting it.

    How does all this play out on the stage of life, in which we all have a part to play day in and day out? Do we become cynical when deceived by some shyster in the street or in the White House? Do we trust that because someone holds the ultimate position of trust that they will lead us down the path of righteousness and truth to better our life or country? Does the cynicism remain with us after we have been deceived or do we return to trust until proven wrong in our assumptions once again? How long do we go on living with and accepting deception before enough is enough and we make a stand for our fundamental beliefs?

    If you know you are being lied to and you are absolutely sure that you are being steered down a dead-end street that is causing you to forsake your moral judgment and the foundation of your upbringing and making a mockery of everything you hold as the truth, should you tolerate it?

    Don’t let there be a mushroom cloud on the horizon that will erase your ability to make the nightmare go away for generations to come. You have got to make it happen before it’s too late to put the train in reverse and send the liars to Mars on the next flight out!

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