American Culture

Hillary vs Brian Williams: stolen valor on the campaign trail

One of these things is not like the other

If you’ve been following the latest scandal du jour, you already know that Brian Williams has been caught in and called out for a long series of big, fat, juicy lies. The “shot down” lie was one he put on heavy rotation for over a decade, according to Variety:

In multiple retellings over the years, though, the NBC anchor has gone from saying he was “on the ground” when he learned about the RPG threat to suggesting the copter immediately in front of his took the hit to saying his own chopper was battered by both the RPG and AK-47 fire.

Called out for it recently, he vaguely admitted to the, shall we say, botched recollection, and poorly at that, at least in context of Variety’s claim.

“I would not have chosen to make this mistake,” he added. “I don’t know what screwed up in my mind that caused me to conflate one aircraft with another.”

Williams even offered an on-air non-apology, as seen in the clip from a WashPo article that tackles the matter from a different angle, The science behind Brian Williams’s mortifying memory flub. As to the science of false memories, I think we can all attest to the times our memories have tricked us. And if we’re really honest with ourselves, if not with our audiences, I think we’re usually aware, at least at first, of those times when we take an essentially true story and embellish it here and there for more colorful retelling. Some of us might even have had to wrestle with the surreal task of untangling our own embellished stories to get back to what actually happened.

Is that what happened with Brian Williams? I can’t say. I’m not psychic. All I have to go by is my own experience with the occasional embellishment of a tale for the sake of more colorful storytelling. Anyone that knows me knows I actually tend to self deprecation rather than aggrandizement, so if anything my own embellishments tend to make me look, well, even more deprecated. I realize that’s not the usual way of things. On the other extreme, I once worked for a guy that, put gently, was a teller of tall tales, although I always preferred to think of him exactly as what I called him the day I ended that employment…a pathological liar who disgraces the people he lies to with the utter absurdity of his lies. To be fair, this guy’s lies were at least generally amusing enough to be retold as humorous anecdotes at his expense. Some even earned titles for the sake of retelling, or for cajoling another witness into relating a particular favorite. My own personal favorite was Canvas Diaper on a Lightning Rod, but that’s a tale for another time.

The big difference between me, the pathological liar, and Brian Williams, is that Williams not only actually was in an emotionally intense situation, but that he then truthfully reported about it at first. That’s the kind of thing that rather locks in the essentially true story. When he “misspoke” to Stars & Stripes, what he really fails to get at is when things first got screwed up in his mind. What his non-apology fails to get at is how he managed to keep it screwed up in his mind even after being challenged on his version quite some time ago.

At least we actually got an apology for his act of stolen valor, however equivocal. At least it was just his lie, and only his, and only his equivocation. And really, there’s nothing to be gained except perhaps the continuation of his employment. Were Brian Williams to be shit-canned today and forever disgraced so badly that he resorts to life coaching, a la Jason Blair, something tells me he’s sitting on a tidy sum and able to retire in relative opulence. Life will go on for the rest of us.

So let’s take a moment to remember Hillary’s biggest encounter with getting called out for a blatant act of stolen valor. There was the lie, oft repeated on the campaign trail. There was the exposure. There wasn’t an apology, only a non-admission of “I misspoke.” Freudian slips are “misspeaks.” Saying what you really think when you didn’t actually mean to say “yes, dear, that dress makes your ass look big” is a misspeak. Getting someone’s name wrong when attributing a story is a misspeak. Lots of things are. Lies are not misspeaks. And I am not willing, for even a moment, to entertain the notion that poor, poor Hillary was under such emotional strain that she legitimately misremembered coming under sniper fire, because it was an experience shared with Chelsea, who, the very first time the lie was told, could have said, “um, Mom, I was there and that’s not how it was.” We’ll never know whether Chelsea or anyone else ever tried to intervene that way. All we know is that Hillary told that same lie repeatedly and that Chelsea doubled down on that lie for her.

Stolen valor.

Now can you say “Commander in Chief?”

No thank you. I’ll stick with stolen valor.

So what is the massive flaw in Democratic groupthink, then?

Back to Variety:

The NBC anchor’s career-threatening failure on the Iraq story now has commentators, particularly on the political right, saying Clinton should be in just as much trouble.

Particularly on the right? This shouldn’t be a left/right thing, a GOP/Dem thing. This is a truth thing. I’ve been called naive for thinking any politician isn’t just automatically full of shit simply by virtue of opening their mouths, but here’s the thing I’ve often replied. Sure, I know in my gut they’re all (minus a vanishingly small number of sincere public servants, at least on the national stage) lying, self-serving sacks of shit, but until they’re caught in it, that’s just a suspicion. Once it’s on record that Candidate Sackoshit is a proven liar, that’s it. All she wrote. The end. Caput. Liar.

We know Hillary is a liar. The failure in Democratic groupthink is that commentators on the left should be at least as outraged as commentators on the right. At least? Moreso! That’s the high road the left cedes to the right. We can’t expect the right to police their own when the left won’t. Hillary should be figuratively thrown under the figurative bus as an example and a clear message: “We don’t care how connected you are, how wealthy you are, how conflicted your interests are. The Democratic Party will not support a proven liar.”

Don’t hold your breath waiting for that moment of principle. If the Wasserman-Schultz crowd has its way, we’ll have a thief of valor commanding our troops. But that’s okay, right?

Clinton, at a press conference in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, today said: “So I made a mistake. That happens. It shows I’m human, which for some people is a revelation.”


Image credit: Donkey Hotey.  Licensed under Creative Commons.

1 reply »

  1. Good post, Frank. Very thoughtful and useful, and part of the reason that folks like me who’d like to like Hillary, are still a little leery.

    Would that the right had anything like that same degree of discomfort with untruths, e.g., Ryan’s marathon, Gingrich’s marraiges, etc.