Can Brian Williams salvage his career?

In a word … no.

At least not as the face of NBC News.

Brian Williams got caught fabricating his field coverage of the war in Iraq, which then called into question his coverage of Hurricane Katrina. He danced around his fibs by calling them memory lapses.

Ummm…yeah.

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So he’s now on unpaid leave and I’m sure the network bigwigs are wringing their hands trying to figure out what to do. Before his gaffe, Williams was pretty popular with those who still tune in to the nightly news. But now? Now, I think he has to step away from his seat at the evening news desk because he broke public trust and without trust a journalist has got nothing.

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Journalism isn’t really about writing. Sure, it helps if you have a good grasp of grammar and vocabulary. But really good journalists aren’t just folks who know how to turn a phrase. They love the truth. They love it so much that they are willing to wade through the muck of politics, brave wars and natural disasters, and sit through hours of courtroom testimony to tell the public what is happening — in most cases for not much money and crappy hours. If the public thinks a journalist is full of it, well, then that reporter better just hang up his or her hat. It’s over.

Trust is a tenuous thing and it’s not easy to get it back. When I started the education beat, the paper I worked for hired a “consultant” to improve our readership score. His big idea was we shouldn’t go to local government meetings. We should follow-up the next day with the people who ran these meetings and find in-depth stories to pursue.

This is one of those things that sounds good in theory but pretty much sucks in real life. As part of this master plan, I was told to deliberately skip out on a school board meeting even though that board was in the midst of upheaval. I called the superintendent the next day and she ran down what happened at the meeting. It was all pretty generic and she didn’t offer much to pursue later. Hmmm….

My very lame followup story ran that afternoon. I was embarrassed when a reader called to chew me out because I had failed to mention the big blow up between board members over an issue that the superintendent had conveniently left out of our conversation. The reader was convinced I was in cahoots with the superintendent and that I’d lied by omission.

Ouch.

I learned a valuable lesson that day. You can bet your backside I was at the next school board meeting to see for myself what was happening. I wasn’t really mad at the superintendent. I mean, would you tell a reporter that your board was in revolt if you didn’t have to? I was mad at myself. I couldn’t really put my name on these stories if all I was going to do was be a mouthpiece for my contacts.  I needed to know the truth.

Truth matters. Whether it’s what you say or what you don’t say. You owe it to your readers to tell the truth of what happened. Not what you would have liked to have happened. Not what sounds sexy or what sells. Just the truth.

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The sad thing is that so many journalists today no longer see truth as the duty they carry. From Rolling Stones’ questionable story about a campus rape to reporters using the news for their personal agendas, truth often is no longer the goal. No wonder journalists have found themselves below bankers when it comes to public perception of honesty.

And that’s unfortunate for the future of the Fourth Estate, an industry still in a tailspin in this Internet age. Truth is the commodity that journalists sell; we can’t let a few bad apples spoil it for the rest.

 

 

 

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Just what I needed today (yes, that’s sarcasm)

Today at work I got the call that litigation was pending against me.

To be honest, it kind of freaked me out for a minute until my brain caught up with my emotional reaction to the word “lawsuit.” First, the caller had a thick Indian accent, like so thick I couldn’t understand him. But his name was Brandon with a surname that was decidedly American so that was weird.

Then there was the fact that he was calling me at work (I work at a university) but he didn’t know if I was an employee or a student. And he asked me that twice, even though this lawsuit apparently had to do with my time at the university. So that also was weird.

He also said I should have been served papers yesterday – at work no less – which I had not.

Then he started throwing around a lot of scary words like “breach of contract” and “IRS” but even with the language barrier, it did not make a lot of sense. No facts, no dates or parties involved in the suit. I wasn’t even sure what agency he was with, though he was happy to provide a badge number without me even asking.

My Spidey-sense was kicking in at about the same time he asked if I wanted to discuss a settlement over the phone to avoid litigation.

Click.

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By the time I hung up, I was kind of PO’d. First, I wasted time on this bozo – I’d been headed out for a bathroom break when my phone rang so I also really had to go.

But the thing that made me mad was thinking about the people who fall for this. I mean, it’s scary to hear someone rattle off all these legal terms and dropping the dreaded name of the IRS. So for some little old lady, she might be tempted to hand over her credit card number.

I Googled telephone scams and without putting in any more details, I found that this particular strategy is popular now, threatening lawsuits, arrest and charges of tax evasion in exchange for personal information or payment. Guys and gals overseas can purchase U.S. numbers in the D.C. area, — mine came from the 703 area code — then plug in a Magic Jack to be in business.

It made me feel better to hear stories similar to mine but it was sickening to see how pervasive this scam was. I lump these kinds of scuzzballs in the same category as the geeks who invent malware and viruses to corrupt computers. Please, just get a real job and get a real life. Quit preying on others for your existence. Use your powers for good, not evil.

And please quit calling me at work. At least have the decency to call my cell so I can ignore you properly.

This is a win!

I’ve read a few things in the news lately that have really irritated me, and I’ve had a few possible posts (aka rants) running through my mind. But I read this today and decided to share something positive instead.

http://www.ew.com/article/2015/02/02/no-one-loses-chris-evans-and-chris-pratts-super-bowl-bet

I’m not a football fan. Most of the time I couldn’t even tell you which two teams were playing in the big game. But with all the monetary wagers made over this past Sunday’s game, it was really heartwarming to read that this bet would, in fact, only benefit others.

Way to be good role models, Captain America and Star-Lord! 🙂

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