Is the media being hypocritical about Brian Williams?
On Comedy Central's 'The Daily Show' Monday night, host Jon Stewart took Brian Williams to task over his desire to be a celebrity journalist. Stewart was even angrier at the journalists attacking the NBC news anchor.
Since Brian Williams’ account of his experience in the Iraq War has come under scrutiny and Mr. Williams has gone on self-imposed suspension, some in the media have called into question his ethics as a reporter.
Monday night, one of cable television’s pillars threw Mr. Williams a lifeline, or at least put Mr. Williams’ actions in the broader context as one brushstroke on a canvas of poor journalism conducted in the lead-up to the Iraq War. Jon Stewart on "The Daily Show" railed against the same media that roasted Mr. Williams but have not acknowledged their own errors in reporting on the second Bush Administration’s case for going to war.
Mr. Stewart, in his segment on the matter, showed a clip of Vice President Dick Cheney on NBC's "Meet the Press" from November of 2002, citing a New York Times article from which he claimed that then-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s regime was attempting to obtain aluminum tubes that could be used in centrifuges to enrich uranium.
However, it was later revealed that administration officials leaked the information to the New York Times, and the paper ran with the story despite no evidence of Iraqi centrifuges ever turning up over the course of the war, according to IraqWatch.org. According to Iraq Watch, there were estimates that Iraq could produce up to 1.5 nuclear bombs a year back in the late 1980s before international sanctions dismantled the program following the first Gulf War. Stewart also played a clip of the Times’ executive editor, Bill Keller, saying that he was satisfied with the journalism his organization did before the war.
Mr. Stewart’s larger point was the media, as a whole, let the American people down by not better scrutinizing the Bush Administration’s case to go to war. In the wake of 9/11, the administration capitalized on Americans' fear and portrayed Saddam Hussein as a willing partner for Al Qaeda and that he was pursuing weapons of mass destruction.
“For some people this might seem like overkill but for me? No it’s not overkill because I’m happy. Finally! Someone is being held to account for misleading the American people about the Iraq War.” - Jon Stewart on the Daily Show
Mr. Stewart also called out Mr. Williams for letting the desire of his "celebrity cortex" get in the way of his his duties as a journalist.
So why does the media attack Mr. Williams’ one inaccurate anecdote in a war in which the inaccurate case for going to war was widely circulated in mass media?
According to Fortune Magazine, the selective moral outrage other journalists have displayed when discussing Mr. Williams' current situation should not come as a surprise. Media views its role as conveying the truth to the public. So, when a high profile-member within its circle stretches the truth to generate more buzz for a story, the pundits will circle the wagons and devour each other, the business magazine reported.
Two recent examples of this include the reaction to Fox News on-air personalities' referring to "Muslim no-go zones" in France and England and the reporting by CBS "60 Minutes" correspondent Lara Logan on the deadly attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.