Last week was a bad week for journalists.
Well, wait — these days, every week is a bad week for journalists. Friend of mine works for a local daily newspaper where they’re trepidatiously waiting to re-apply for their jobs, or some kind of job. It’s like a game of musical chairs, only with your paycheck at stake.
No, I was talking about high-profile journalists, the ones everyone knows about because they ply their trade on a bigger stage, at a global level.
Brian Williams, the anchor and managing editor of NBC Nightly News, was suspended for six months after it was discovered he’s been perpetuating a bogus war tale of being in a military chopper that came under fire from rocket-propelled grenades in Iraq in 2003. Turns out this particular war story — all journalists have them — got embellished over time.
Trouble is, it now appears the story was a fabrication, a figment of Williams’ imagination. He says he misremembered.
So he said he’d take a few days off, but NBC said he was suspended. It’s reported that Williams makes $10 million a year, so a six-month suspension should be costing him a cool five million smackers.
More importantly, it damaged what little trust all journalists have these days. Used to be it was an honorable profession and that journos were looked up to.
Business Insider reported that Williams went from the 23th most trusted person in America to the 835th most trusted. Yikes!
Then, the other night, CBS 60 Minutes correspondent Bob Simon was killed in a car crash, just some random, out-of-the-blue incident. Simon was a veteran newsman who, over the years, covered war wherever it was being waged. He even was a POW during the first Gulf War, spending 40 days as a prisoner.
And the next night, New York Times media writer David Carr collapsed in the newsroom. He was rushed to a hospital, but it was too late.
I liked Carr. He was one of those arrogant, know-it-all guys who pretty much knew it all when it came to the news media.
I’ve often wished I could be a know-it-all. I worked for a real expert once. Most of the folks I worked for knew how they wanted things done. One guy knew that, but was an expert in how things should be done. There’s a difference.
It’s the same difference between experts and guys like me. An expert will state things as a fact. Period.
I say, for example, the sky is blue “as far as I know.”
(I know we only SEE the sky as blue because of a sort of trick of the eye and light, but you know what I mean.)
I have been accused of being arrogant, and maybe I am, but I have never been arrogant enough to be confident that I know it all. I just know some stuff — and how to find out the rest.
And that, in the end, is what being a journalist is all about, whether you’re writing about the media, anchoring a network news program, covering a war or running a small county website.