Brian Williams’ Tales of a Self-Made-Up Man (A Real Hood Dun It Mystery)

This essay appeared previously in Fair Observer and Counterpunch.

‘If you don’t man-up and author your own embellishments, no one’s going to do it for you.’

brian williams hoodieIf Brian Williams ever fabricated a mugging tale (someone check the videotape), you can bet the perpetrator is a black kid in a hoodie. William’s fanciful flights tend to favor flight but sometimes they venture forth by sea-yarn (as in Katrina bodies bobbing in puddles of poetic license).

Truth to power? Nah. Power is truth. That’s the Williams Credo.

In all cases Williams prefers soft targets. This makes him something of a bully in addition to being a liar. When he talks about roving gangs in the French Quarter’s Ritz Carlton, the black faces on the perimeters of his imagination are faintly discernible. Flying with Israeli big brass, he encounters rocket fire from Hezbollah.

Williams is a pro at demonizing the demonized. He’s a company man through and through who always manages, even in his compulsive deceptions, to butter up the boss side of the bread. As for his hard-hitting reportage on Fukushima (that other GE spewer) well, we await that exposé while cesium supplies last, and they’re going to last longer than us. Still, it would be nice to get a high-production closing shot of the final pink clouds.

America let so many things get away from her. How did so little get pumped up into so much and still manage to drop the ball over so little? Teleprompter jockeys became the successive Voices of a Nation. In the best Pentagon-speak, a re-baselining of this baseless hyperinflation is in order otherwise mission creep will get you WW3 in Donbass.

News-Reader Job Requirements (in the post-Williams era):

  1. Can you read?
  2. Can you sit on a stool for 30 minutes without falling off (Note: this is not as hard as it sounds; the half-hour is spaced with interminable off-air selling orgies)?
  3. Do you have an intelligibility problem (Note: This is not a showstopper; Bah-bwa Wah-wah and Tom Bwo-kaw made careers out of having us crane our necks to glean what the hell they were on about—what, no football scores? Aww, why didn’t you tell us)?
  4. Can you stick to your employer’s elaborate tissue of lies and keep your private dysfunctions off-camera?
  5. Can you accomplish all of this with a jaw-dropping sense of self-importance and oceans of faux-conviction?

Three years before Walter Cronkite (that other striving high school graduate) joined CBS on the way to becoming the most trusted voice in America, John-Paul Sartre would pay these sea-to-shining-sea shores a call. No flies on his nausea, John-Paul read our blank evening faces in a flash. Another fifty years would have to pass before that most hollow Emblem of the Willing, Freedom fries, would stare up at us from our happy meals. Yet already, Sartre had spied the klieg light apparatus arrayed above our heads, calling it the Great Implacable Machine:

“Similarly, when a careful arrangement of those melting-pot notions–puritanism, realism, optimism, and so on–which we have been told are the keys to the American character is presented to us in Europe, we experience a certain intellectual satisfaction and think that, in effect, it must be so. But when we walk about New York, on Third Avenue, or Sixth Avenue, or Tenth Avenue, at that evening hour which, for Da Vinci, lends softness to the faces of men, we see the most pathetic visages in the world, uncertain, searching, intent, full of astonished good faith, with appealing eyes, and we know that the most beautiful generalizations are of very little service: they permit us to understand the system but not the people.”—from ‘Americans and Their Myths”, The Nation, October 18, 1947

Sartre the stranger marveled at what befuddling and self-dejected mysteries Americans really were, beyond the endless representations the system demanded they reduce themselves to. And what durable implacability that system has proven to possess with Ph.D. baristas at Starbucks trained to ask with solicitous banality:= ‘venti or grande’, and the pathetic visage and appealing eyes of a bullshit artist pulling down $10,000,000 a year. Yet, just as it all happened improbably enough beneath the same Big Tent, it’s also breaking down with a strikingly eerie simultaneity.

Williams is merely one thread in a fabric that’s fraying from all ends: the petrodollar, NATO supremacy in satrap Europe, central bank monetary levitation, upward mobility, the heartland’s gumption for marching into one third-world cul de sac  after another. All those beautiful generalizations that took so much thinking off our hands are collapsing—the blame for which the BBC’s Adam Curtis tends to lay at the feet of journalism’s increasingly anachronistic tools. (Yes, the storytelling may be broken. But the narratives broke first, leaving the storyteller to storyboard incoherence and irresolution. Collaging and kick-ass tunage can’t paper over the abyss forever.) PNAC ate our exorbitant privilege and then some. Nobody believes us anymore, including ourselves. Silly Straussians, there never was nobility in lies. Beyond good and evil, it’s evil all the way down. Like an exquisite waterlogged corpse, we’re submerged in a Katrina puddle and we can’t get up.

Who can fault a professional liar for trying to keep up? Brian Williams strove to placate the implacable demands of the American mythmaking machine. Possessed of the character flaws the Big Lie relishes, he made a decent go of it. However no man can sustain wall-to-wall bullshit forever. Somewhere, he’s going to slip up and tell the truth, prompting the inevitable questions of veracity. Only a brand, an unblinking machine, can do that. (“Brian Williams: Personal branding got in the way of the news.”—LA Times). Caught in a big lie, he retreated to a smaller lie, something about protecting the honor of veterans. Whaa? Oh and Iraq was a clean war too, dontcha know.

There are no quick solutions—only vague, new paradigms somewhere off in the future. Put a post-grad egghead in that chair tomorrow and ratings would plummet. Detergent would go begging for stubborn grass stains. Besides, who’d serve the coffee? Under natural lighting, whiter-whites reveal an opacity no clean war would dare tolerate. Things would complexify in a heartbeat. People would recoil. Hell, most people don’t give a damn: Entertain us with cinematic shrapnel. If it misses the helicopter, edit it for television and lodge it in you thigh. We’re not keeping score.

“Perhaps nowhere else will you find such a discrepancy between people and myth, between life and the representation of life.”

Looks like Williams got caught in Sartre’s cross-hair. But that’s where a consummate bull-shitter lives—in the TV glare of yawning discrepancy. If someone had any honesty left, they’d fire him.

Brian Williams’ Tales of a Self-Made-Up Man (A Real Hood Dun It Mystery)