News guys: Brian Williams, Jon Stewart, Bob Simon

Brian Williams on the moon with Neil Armstrong.

60 MINUTESIt was a Wednesday night. I was at our Dad’s group at church, and the pastor was reading this excerpt of the book Jesus for President, about, in retrospect, the obvious buildup to the Iraq war, featuring folks such as Paul Wolfowitz and Jeb Bush.

It reminded me of something CBS News correspondent Bob Simon had said in January 2003 on the Sunday Morning program. The exact words I don’t recall, but it was, in effect: The United States and its allies are now occupying Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, allowing the inspectors to look for those “weapons of mass destruction” we were supposedly so sure existed.

There was no reason to go to war; the status quo is the way we should pursue things. Of course, the US ignored his counsel, and we’re still dealing with the effects to this day (e.g., ISIL).

Bob Simon knew something of the region. “At the beginning of the Persian Gulf war in January 1991, he was captured with colleagues by Iraqi forces. The team spent 40 days in a prison of Iraqi despot Saddam Hussein. He was interrogated, beaten with canes and truncheons, and starved by his Iraqi captors. He would later recount his story in the book Forty Days.”

I got home that evening and discovered that Bob Simon was dead from a car crash. He was described as a “reporter’s reporter”, winner of 27 Emmys and four Peabody Awards, covering a wide range of topics from Vietnam to making instruments out of rubbish to how elephants communicate.

This news upset me far more than I would have anticipated.

Maybe Bob Simon was the kind of old school journalist/war reporter that Brian Williams, the suspended NBC News anchor, had hoped to be. Watch how his accounts of his time in Iraq had changed since 2003, which is a recurring pattern for him.

As bad as his six-month suspension, and loss of $5 million in salary, must be, what is worse is the public humiliation. He’s a Twitter hashtag, #BrianWilliamsMisremembers. Brian Williams on the moon with Neil Armstrong. Someone took the iconic picture of John Kennedy, Jr. saluting his father’s casket, and superimposed Brian Williams’ head, which, I admit, made me LOL.

The defense of Brian Williams seems to take two forms. One is that other news networks lie all the time. A quote attributed to Chris Rock read: “Fox News lies unapologetically for 20 straight years = #1 cable news network. Brian Williams embellishes one story = worldwide controversy.”

The other is that Cheney/Bush et al. lied about the reasons for going into the Iraq war, and Williams is the only one punished?

Frankly, I’m convinced that possible apology tour will not work, that his predilection for fibbing, which former anchor Tom Brokaw told him about, will do him in, even though he may well have begun to believe his own narrative, putting himself in the story, rather than a deliberate lie.
Cleared for release by Joint Staff Public Affairs
In the same news cycle, Jon Stewart announced he’d be leaving The Daily Show, Comedy Central’s faux news broadcast, which many critics think is far more substantial than the “regular” news.

As many are, I was saddened by the news; as a friend of mine said, Stewart had a way of expressing his own thoughts, but in a more coherent way. Here are some of his best bits.

Lots of speculation about who will replace Stewart. Some suggest Jon Oliver, former Daily Show contributor, who’s got a gig on HBO. Tina Fey or Amy Poehler both hosted the Weekend Update segment on Saturday night Live, are other names being bandied about.

Why not Brian Williams on The Daily Show? After all, he had wanted to be the Tonight Show host. Comedy Central might be a step down, but if Williams did some of the real news Stewart did, it just might raise Williams’ credibility to Jon Stewart level, which is quite high. Whereas he’ll be tainted for NBC, CBS, and ABC for a long time.
I’ve only recently read the columns of David Carr, “who wrote about media as it intersects with business, culture, and government in his Media Equation column for The New York Times.” He died at his office last week. He was only 58.

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