[Insert a sensational title here]
Former “NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams has been suspended for six months for fabricating a story about his time covering the war in Iraq. He falsely claimed that he was in a helicopter that was hit by an RPG. Since the incident, other stories of his have come under scrutiny.
Although his story did not cause any direct harm, Williams should not have lied to the public. His punishment was well-deserved. This controversy brings up questions of the standards we hold journalists to, and whether we have a responsibility to foster an environment where those standards can be easily met.
The business of journalists is to tell the truth, so it makes sense that as consumers of the media, we put our trust in people like Williams. Sensationalism should not be tolerated, yet time and time again, sensationalism has created the content that viewers choose to watch.
An “NBC Nightly News” journalist told the Washington Post, “[Williams is] a great storyteller. But sometimes storytellers embellish.” Storytelling is what we want to hear and Williams’ knack for it led to his popularity. The anchors who are delivering the kind of unembellished stories we claim to want are most likely not the ones that give writers a $10 million salary.
Williams is guilty of lying and creating sensationalism in the media, and he has broken our trust. As a journalist with such a large audience, he should be held to the highest standards of truth. But it’s important to remember that we are also guilty of an equally dangerous offense—creating a demand for tall stories.