Circumstance & “Fact” : The Brian Williams Phenomena.

P.T. Barnum, or, rather, his unfortunate competitor famously uttered

There’s a sucker born every minute

It was a double-irony that induced such words. For David Hannum was outwitted by Barnum; who had countered his “million-dollar” hoax with one of his own; attracting even greater crowds to his allegedly ancient relic and rendering any legal course against him untenable. Needless to say, Hannum was short $37,000 and an intact ego.

It’s often said that there’s “no honor among thieves”. Doesn’t it follow, then, that there is no currency among scoundrels?

An error in syntax

Show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy. – F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Greeks had a word for distinguishing between “actuality” and “myth” (embellishment, story)


It refers, simply, to the phenomena of actuality (all things being equal) ; to the idea that certain events are evident while others, when heavily scrutinized, will fail one simple test . . . .

Did it Happen? 

Further research into the origins of the word demonstrate just why our Western predecessors saw the need for such a term. You see, they felt it critical to distinguish between “correctness in vision” and “correctness in observation”

Fundamental to this belief was the notion that “language” should never exceed nor conquer “nature” (primordial language); that is to say that language is a baser, more diluted means of expression. Nature reveals what language will conceal. Put more simply;  Language can only ever hope to convey what nature embodies.

“Form” and function are one and the same (as Steve Jobs so admirably demonstrated our modern age). In this sense, function (news anchoring) can be forgiven its omissions (and additions) because the form itself isn’t coy to its flaws. Errors in syntax then, by my take, are a gentle sin and one expected of someone who is, let’s not fool ourselves, essentially an entertainer.

Suckers for Media

Brian Williams was embodying a beleaguered and war-torn journalist when he embellished his Helicopter story on Letterman; essentially telling camp-fire tales. And, hasn’t that always been the case with the news anchor? Didn’t we create this peculiar form of celebrity? Brian Williams held presence not for his ability to relay matters of fact (although that undoubtedly plays in ) but to charismatic-ally embody something larger-than-life; to tell stories.

But it seems that we have no tolerance for the mythic “hero” in this brave new media-fueled society we are creating. Journalism is trending, more and-more, towards the news-byte, and the drive-by opine. We exchange narrative for agenda; the classic “journalist” for the “surveyor” and the “demagogue”. Give us the straight and narrow!

We want “habits” to emulate and “facts” upon which to build judgement. Why watch the nightly news when we can have “information” fused into our bloodstream. There’s no sanctimony like the kind seen when one among us is shown to be human. It’s revolting, sacrilegious, and hits a little too close-to-home.

Artisans like the antiquated news anchor are revealing themselves to be increasingly outdated. When a society ousts its figureheads and “heroes”, however, it hasn’t rid itself of the ceremonial void; the need Nature dictates; to worship, revere, and to mythologize. It simply transfers it, dispersing the privilege among the populace. Consequently, we’re all critics; all self-appointed Brian Williams fact-checkers. Our destines, no matter how incongruent, are intertwined! (or so the pathology tells us)

You can’t cheat an honest man

I found the indignation at Brian William’s misgivings to be telling or a larger problem. Neil Gaiman (one of my favorite author), in foreboding fashion, alluded to the problem when he wrote, in his novel  “American Gods

People believe, thought Shadow. It’s what people do. They believe, and then they do not take responsibility for their beliefs; they conjure things, and do not trust the conjuration. People populate the darkness; with ghost, with gods, with electrons, with tales.

Brian Williams committed show-business blasphemy by allowing a peek behind the curtain and into the props and embellishments that compose network news. News execs and the righteously angered public responded, in turn, by brandishing their pitchforks and crying for blood; outraged for being taken as suckers. But I ask you; who’s the smooth operator?

The Media Machine was due for a sacrifice. In some sense, Brian William’s “fall from grace” was as much of an economic certainty as are inflation bubbles bursting; but I, for one, am disturbed by this trend in blaming the icon first and not the wildly speculative public that first raised the idol, only to unceremoniously abandon it when the Media GrimKeeper came calling.