Friday, February 6, 2015

Why Brian Williams Lied About His Combat Experience

"Every man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a soldier, or not having been at sea."

Samuel Johnson said that. By the way, h/t to Ace for bringing that quote to mind.

By now, we all know that Brian Williams lied about being in a helicopter that was shot down during the Iraq war. Here's a video of Williams lying about the event, in detail, to David Letterman. I have been thinking about why he lied about this event. People defending Williams have tossed out this "memory is complicated" idea, in an attempt to let him off the hook. For instance, people are saying things like:
"He was in the helicopter in the sense that we are all in the helicopter. We are the ones who misremember. Misremember, conflate."
What? We are all in the helicopter? What is that even supposed to mean? Memory isn't complicated. You're either in a helicopter that was shot down, or you were in another helicopter an hour behind. It's not that complicated. Next time you get caught in a lie, try out the ol' "memory is complicated" line and let me know how that goes for you.

Look, people. sometimes, the simplest answer is the right answer. Here, I think the simple answer is correct: Brian Williams wanted to portray himself as as badass. So he made up a story.

Williams has been a journalist - a news reader - for his entire career. He's never been a soldier. He's never been one of the rough men standing ready in the night to visit violence upon people. However, he's reported on them, so he's been around them a lot.

I can relate to this. I'm a lawyer, but that makes me kind of the odd-ball in my family and extended family. Every single adult male in my family before me was in the military, and was deployed overseas to combat. Everyone.

My dad was in the Army as a doctor in an 93rd Evac Unit in the first Gulf war. My uncle was in the Army and was a tank commander in the first Gulf war, in addition to other deployments. My other uncle flew helicopters in Vietnam. My late grandfather was special forces in WWII, fighting at Anzio, among other places. My brother in law flew helicopters in the second gulf war. I can keep going back to the Civil War, but I think you get the idea.

Me? I'm just a lawyer. I'm not saying that anyone makes me feel bad about it (they don't), but sometimes I feel guilty about it on my own. Yeah, I know that being a lawyer is an honorable profession, and it's kind of interesting, but it's not exactly the same thing as being deployed to a combat area. I'm kind of the opposite of Lt. Dan.

So I'm kind of in the same boat as Williams. We're both guys who have been around military guys to a great extent, but we're not in the club. We're never going to be in the club. We don't have the bond that those men have, and we're never going to have it. Not that there's anything wrong with being a lawyer or a news reader; both are perfectly legitimate careers.

Here's what happened. I think Williams did a lot of reporting on military issues, and he got to know military men. I think he truly admires them. I think Williams admired these military men that he was around so much, he wanted to be part of their group so badly, that he made up this story so he could fit in - so he could be one of the guys. Who doesn't want to be one of the guys?

Essentially, I think Brian Williams lied for one of the oldest and most common reasons of all: He lied so people would think he's cool. I think deep down, he felt uncool standing next to these military men. Their actions held up a mirror to him, and he looked at his own job of reading the news and felt like he didn't measure up.

He certainly doesn't measure up now. Those who are dishonorable certainly aren't part of the club.


  1. Excellent analysis. Sad fact is that those of us who were in combat zones do not look down on others who weren't. We just don't......

    1. I know. Most of why I occasionally feel bad is that I feel like I've broken a tradition. However, that's significantly (if not completely) mitigated by the fact that my father told me he didn't want me in the military.