Sure, the host joked about how Williams could be trusted to tell the truth when he looks straight into the camera but not when he cocks his head to the side and tells a late-night show host some great anecdote. “We got us a case of infotainment confusion syndrome. It occurs when the celebrity cortex gets its wires crossed with the medula-anchor-dala. You can see when it happens, watch: See how in 2003 he’s looking straight at the camera, right? Medula-anchor-dala appropriately regulating detail, that’s a news story. But when he tells it in 2013 [on the “Late Show"] notice he turns his head … at a 45-degree angle, activating the celebralum. That’s known as the brain’s applause center. Once that engages, there’s no going back, you’re in full-blown anecdote mode.”
Then the host, however, pivoted, by placing Williams’s transgressions in the context of falsehoods promulgated in the Iraq war. His angle of approach was the media frenzy that has descended on the Williams embellishments. After playing snippets of TV personalities — Fox News, CNN, ABC News, for instance — vowing to get to the bottom of this Williams mess, Stewart said, “The media is on it. Now, this may seem like overkill but not for me. No, it’s not overkill because I am happy finally someone is being held to account for misleading America about the Iraq war. It might not necessarily be the first person you’d want held accountable on that list but never again will Brian Williams mislead a nation about being shot at in a war we probably wouldn’t have ended up in if we had applied this level of scrutiny to the actual [expletive] war.”
Yes, the media botched the Iraq war run-up with credulous and corrupt reporting that assisted the Bush administration in propagating stories that Saddam Hussein harbored weapons of mass destruction that didn’t exist. That was awful — something that will surely endure as one of the great media failures of this century.
Surely the transgressions of Brian Williams pale when set against the breakdown of virtually the entire national media. (There was at least one news organization that was skeptical of the Iraq war justifications.) Such context is helpful and has already been expressed, including by Michael Moore.
Yet highlighting one breakdown shouldn’t substitute or overshadow another. Though less consequential, Williams’s violations of journalistic rectitude are staggering. Had Williams been some other anchor working for some other network, perhaps Stewart would have showered him with less exculpatory context.