Baby boomers have witnessed many changes over the years. Today, we are witnessing a pillar of our society being tested and questioned — the credibility of nightly TV news with allegations that a popular anchorman stretched the truth. BoomerCafé’s David Henderson, himself a former television network correspondent, shares some thoughts even before the dust has settled.
There are few more stark reminders that we baby boomers are getting older than when the Grammy Awards are handed out at a gala that dominates the news, and I’ve never heard of any of the singers … and don’t care.
Even more troubling is the shattering of confidence in the evening news on network television when America’s leading anchorman admits that he “misremembered” what did or did not happen when he covered a story. What kind of a word is “misremembered?”
“Misremembered” has quickly become part of our popular lexicon as another word for distorting facts, dramatizing events or just plain lying.
At the core of anchorman Brian Williams’ problems is his accuracy in reporting. In 2003 and during the intervening years, he has reported and apparently embellished a story that a helicopter he was in was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade in Iraq. His versions of that story have gotten more heroic and dangerous-sounding. He also reported events that happened in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina that might never have happened.
The current internal probe by NBC News of whether or not anchorman Williams distorted the facts is equally tainted. As veteran media watcher and baby boomer David Carr of The New York Times observes, “indeed, the investigation at NBC will be led internally, by the head of investigations, who depends on Mr. Williams to make room for his work on the newscast.”
Things started going downhill for Williams when a crew member of a U.S. helicopter that was fired upon in Iraq in 2003, posted on the NBC News Facebook page, “Sorry dude, I don’t remember you being on my aircraft,” instantly bringing into question Williams’ credibility. Williams has been telling stories as if he was on the chopper that took fire. He wasn’t.
Columnist Maureen Dowd, also of The New York Times, wrote, “Social media — the genre that helped make the TV evening news irrelevant by showing us that we don’t need someone to tell us every night what happened that day — (has been) gutting the institution further.” Social media tends to expose lies quickly.
When we boomers were growing up, we turned on the evening news to watch the likes of Walter Cronkite, John Chancellor, Roger Mudd and David Brinkley bring us the news of the day. We trusted what they reported. All of the anchor people of that era had earned their stripes as accomplished reporters, covering wars and world events. CBS News, where I worked during the 1970s, was known for its high journalistic standards. It was the same at NBC and ABC News. No one compromised trust, no one cut corners, no one “misremembered” because we took notes. No one told tall tales to spotlight their heroism as a journalist.
Things changed in the 1980s. Network news divisions were put under the entertainment chiefs of the networks because they saw that high news ratings equated to top dollar advertising revenue and big profits. News became more like entertainment, and network anchor people were selected more for good looks and charm on camera than journalistic accomplishments.
Just like the Grammy Awards, I switch on cable or network news shows and watch fluffy entertainment stories. And I remember what Buckminster Fuller wrote, “I’m a stranger in a strange land.”