As any track athlete knows, after training at high altitude, distance running at lower levels barely shocks the system.
This explains, in part, why I’ve not read up much on the lie attributed to NBC’s Brian Williams. It was a behemoth, apparently. I just can’t bring myself to know any more about it.
For one, a few years ago I resolved to ride out the media phenomenon of the moment – the big, bigger, “biggest” story that didn’t affect me.
This all started with the Michael Jackson child molestation trial. There was a lot to hear, of course, but I resolved not to hear a word of it until it was over.
There’s so much one could know these days, about Bill Cosby’s accusers, about Justin Bieber’s latest delinquency, about Bruce Jenner’s gender. I could be alarmed/intrigued about each — if any of it had any effect whatsoever on my daily life. So, too, with Williams’ chopper whopper.
The other reason why I don’t care about Williams’ lie is where it resides on the scale of falsehoods in this century: not very high.
What interests me is that many of the people most inflamed by what Williams said are the very same people who weren’t bothered by what Donald Rumsfeld said in 2003.
Asked about weapons of mass destruction used pretextually to roll tanks into Iraq, Rumsfeld said, "We know where they are. They are in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad.”
Sure they were. And the Iraqis had acquired the means of building nuclear weapons. So said President Bush. And Iraqi intelligence had met with a 9/11 conspirator, said Vice President Cheney.
A few years later Rumsfeld was confronted in public about his “we know where they are” claim. He said he hadn’t made it up, that he had identified “suspected” sites of WMDs. Of course, the videotape trail made that just one more lie on top of a whole pile of them. A mountain of lies. An Everest. An Annapurna.
What it took each day for the Bush White House to keep its web of fabrication intact right under our nostrils is one of the great logistical feats of any century. In the media glare of an information age, it was a veritable moon shot.
So, using the analogy of high-altitude training, let us say: The pretext that led us to war in Iraq so built up our capacity to endure untruth that it may take decades for some of us to be outraged again.
If Williams’ lie had resulted in people dying, I might be sifting through the facts right now. Then again, if we didn’t demand the truth surrounding a war that resulted in the deaths of 4,493 of our sons and daughters, and over half a million Iraqis – well, I’m not sure what to do with Williams’ fable.
It’s interesting, too, that many of those demanding Williams’ most excellent scalp and blasting his network are those for whom Fox News is a model of credibility.
In fact, there’s barely a follicle’s worth of difference between Williams’ claim about being on a downed helicopter and Bill O’Reilly’s 2008 claim to have been in combat. No, he hadn’t, he admitted when a caller pointed out O’Reilly’s lack of a military record.
O’Reilly clarified, more or less, that as a journalist he’d been “in the middle of a couple of firefights in South and Central America.” A couple, Bill? Central or South? Or both?
No matter. Fox wasn’t about to sanction blustery Bill. Because, well, unlike Brian Williams, credibility really isn’t Bill’s game.
You might say he and Fox had no shame. You might also say that along with the rest of us, when it came to parroting untruths that led this country into war, they’d been to the mountaintop in 2003, and it was all downhill from there.
Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.