Lessons from a ‘serial embellisher’ | Inquirer Entertainment

Lessons from a ‘serial embellisher’

/ 01:45 AM March 06, 2015

That top NBC TV news anchor Brian Williams has been suspended for six months should serve as a warning to TV news people to review their own standards for objective reportage.

It all started weeks ago when, on a guesting stint on TV, Williams recalled a scary incident in Iraq when, as he recalled it, the military helicopter he was in was hit by enemy fire more than a decade ago.

After that interview, some other people involved in the incident corrected him, pointing out that it was the helicopter in front of them that had been hit.


Very quickly, Williams issued an apology for “misremembering,” probably thinking that it would adequately compensate for the gaffe.—Wrong!


Right after the obviously inadequate apology, critics brought up other questionable recollections on Williams’ part, like his falling ill with gastroenteritis while covering the Katrina tragedy (no such cases were reported), and that he saw a dead body floating outside his hotel room window (the flood was too shallow to make that possible).

After even more complaints about faulty reporting or recollection were filed, NBC News took a deep breath and suspended Williams without pay, replacing him with Lester Holt.

Too harsh?

Since Williams is the most popular news anchor on US TV, his suspension has become breaking news in its own right, stirring up a flurry of discussions in and out of the news biz.

Some people feel that NBC’s decision was too harsh for occasional acts of “inadvertent” misremembering, while others found it too light, and felt that Williams should have been fired, period.

They argued that credibility and trust are at the very core of the news reporting profession, so reporters and anchors who “color” or add to the utter objectivity of their reports should be firmly chastised and called to account.


Other discussants believed that Williams wasn’t just occasionally unreliable, but was in fact a “serial embellisher,” who added inaccurate details to his reports or recollections, in order to make himself look more courageous, adventurous and “colorful.” They insisted that the news should be in terse black and white, no “color” allowed, so infringers like Williams have no place in the biz!

Local version

On the local TV news scene, newscasts are sometimes so colorful and subjective that the hue and cry over Williams’ fibs makes us realize with a shock how much more problematic our own situation is!

Because they’re not just news people but also host other “commentary” programs on radio-TV, some of our TV anchors think that there’s nothing wrong with adding their own “colorful” comments at the end of their newscasts.

In addition, they “decorate” or “counterpoint” their reportage with occasional facial expressions, vocal interjections and other smug or cynical reactions that make it all too clear what they really think about the news item they’re reporting on.

If they were on US or European TV, they would be fired in an instant—but news managers and viewers here are so undemanding that these subjective “reporters” have the run of the place.

Truth to tell, they even defend their “style” as “very Filipino,” since they feel that local viewers get bored with “dry,” factual newscasts, and love news programs that make their reports sound, look and feel “dramatic” and—that key word again, “colorful!”

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So if the furor over Brian Williams’ case generates similar discussions and consequent enlightenment here, we’d all be the better for it. Thanks for the reminder, Brian. May your tribe decrease.

TAGS: brian williams, broadcast, lie, NBC, news, Newscast, professionalism, scandal, Television

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