Brian Williams and the vagaries of human memory

“The story actually started with a terrible moment a dozen years back during the invasion of Iraq when the helicopter we were traveling in was forced down after being hit by an RPG. Our traveling NBC News team was rescued, surrounded and kept alive by an armor mechanized platoon from the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry.”

— NBC anchor Brian Williams,
recounting his 2003 brush with death in Iraq.

Except, as the whole world now knows, none of that ever happened. Brian Williams was not aboard the helicopter that was forced down by Iraqi fire, although he and his helicopter did happen upon the scene roughly an hour later. He and his NBC crew were not rescued by American soldiers. And after the soldiers involved in that action came forward to challenge Williams’ account, he publicly recanted:

“I think the constant viewing of the video showing us inspecting the impact area (of the damaged chopper) — and the fog of memory over 12 years — made me conflate the two, and I apologize.”

 

So now what?

Neuroscientists have long known that the brain can be an unreliable narrator, in ways both large and small. To cite an illustration on the small end of the scale, I’ve played golf almost every week for the past 20 years with a rotating cast of about two dozen characters. When it comes time to tote up the score on a just-completed hole, one of us will occasionally make a mistake and have to be corrected by his playing partners. We’ve all done it; we all know better than to take it as an act of dishonesty. It would be a pretty dumb thing to lie about.

But we’ve also all remarked on the fact that when you make those mistakes, you always err on the low side and never on the high side. You may accidentally report a 5 when you really scored a 6, yet somehow you never report an 8 when your real score was 7. The brain is always willing to twist events to its own advantage.

That said, I don’t think you can explain away Williams’ story in those terms. It’s not like forgetting that first shot that you left in the sand trap. In one retelling in 2013, for example, he recalled “being in a helicopter I had no business being in in Iraq with rounds coming into the airframe,” thinking he would die. He has said that ““our captain took a Purple Heart injury to his ear in the cockpit.”

“Memories” that vivid, that detailed and that false are not the result of events fading into time and being misremembered. They are fabrications, and if Williams did not actively invent them he was less than honestly vigilant in fending them off.

And yes, exaggerated war stories have existed from the beginning of time, often related by people who never saw real action but over time convinced themselves to believe otherwise. I’m sure that more than one lowly armor-polisher came home from the Trojan War, crossing the wine-dark sea back to Greece, to regale his drinking buddies about the time that he saved the life of brave Achilles.

The difference is, the lowly spear-sharpener wasn’t a network anchor.

Reader Comments 0

685 comments
SimpleTruths
SimpleTruths

He was caught up in that fog of journalism.

Brosephus
Brosephus

"The liberal's favorite anchor man is a liar, plain and simple."

What does it say about the poster who posted this steaming hunk of bovine fecal matter of a lie then?  Wouldn't a lie about a liar be twice as bad?  After all, I thought the liberal's favorite anchor man was Jon Stewart, or is it Keith Olbermann.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/11/the-conservative-case-for-net-neutrality/382650/

Calling Title II reclassification “net neutrality regulation” is a little odd, because net neutrality has been a policy goal of the FCC for nearly a decade. But still, the whole episode was tiresome. Net neutrality proponents watched as policy they had long hoped for picked up its most-important advocate ever, and then as the issue accumulated partisan muck.

Which was… a little weird to watch, too. Because net neutrality—even Title II reclassification—has often been endorsed by none other than conservatives.

A poll released by a consortium of pro-net neutrality found that self-identifying conservatives widely support regulation to limit cable companies’s ability to affect the Internet.

Some 83 percent, in fact, of “thought that Congress should take action to ensure that cable companies do not ‘monopolize the Internet’ or ‘reduce the inherent equality of the Internet’ by charging some content companies for speedier access,” reported Haley Edwards at Time.

And in fact, there’s a considerable and straightforward conservative argument for regulating to protect net neutrality. Without net neutrality, Internet providers can charge a toll to companies or make them pay more to have access to an “Internet fast lane.” Giant tech firms, able to pay the toll, could then provide services that newer startups couldn’t, and giant companies would have a leg up on more nimble competitors.

The competition that has made the American technology sector possible, in other words, would calcify.


kayaker71
kayaker71

Makes you wonder how many other times this pretty boy has lied.  Seldom do liars do it only once.

LordHelpUs
LordHelpUs

@kayaker71 Yeah!  Someone earlier wrote a lie that said BW was 'The liberal's favorite anchor man.'

Wonder how many other lies that liar has spewed...

LordHelpUs
LordHelpUs

Good Heavens.  The guy screwed up and is getting crucified everywhere!

Interesting that the cons have a much higher standard for others than they do for the blatantly partisan venues like Fox news, Breitbart, Rush, RedState, etc.

Kinda like they seem to have higher standards for other citizens than for themselves...speaks volumes...

LordHelpUs
LordHelpUs

@kayaker71 @LordHelpUs No problem...not even my cross to bear.

The fact that you think this translates to me somehow only serves to illustrate how small you are...

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

@LordHelpUs

And jay followed suit. To be honest, I didn't know about it until jay brought it here.

Besides, you were talking about comments made here, soooooo...

LordHelpUs
LordHelpUs

@FIGMO2 @LordHelpUs 'Besides, you were talking about comments made here, soooooo...'

I was?  

Take a look at comments at Breitbart or RedState.  Man, it's like somebody FINALLY tossed some REAL bones to a bunch of starving dogs!!

Tiberius-Constitutionus
Tiberius-Constitutionus

Democrats Exercise ‘No’ Power in Senate to G.O.P.’s Dismay

By JEREMY W. PETERS

Now that they control both houses of Congress, Republicans are beginning to learn the limits of their newfound power.

Good for the Dems.

PudHead
PudHead

Quick we need to find some biological reason that this guy LIED, right Jay. When Hitlery lied you called it a miss-speak, when will liberals open a dictionary and stop making up your own meanings for words. Illegal aliens broke the law to get here and a liar is a liar. Hey do you liberals what do you call burgers, uninvited visitor who borrowed your stuff?

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@PudHead

Can't edit your own post to correct it?

Is it the platform you're on (some tablet?), or did you just never notice the "Edit in # minutes" link that appears once you've posted?

Saves a lot of grief, if you notice a typo within the first five minutes of posting. After five minutes, though, one has to live with one's mistake.

PudHead
PudHead

It is early LOL

burglars

kayaker71
kayaker71

The liberal's favorite anchor man is a liar, plain and simple.  You can spin it any way you want but he lied.  Why? Who knows and who cares.  It is fun to see the liberal media try to justify this lie as part of some kind of psychological memory problem or being unable to recall something that happened a few years back. Of the helicopter pilots that I know who experienced a crash, all recall it like it was yesterday.  You just don't forget that kind of thing.  The interesting thing will be...... what is NBC going to do about it?

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

@kayaker71

Will they sincerely apologize to any of their viewers who might have been offended by errors in Williams' reporting?

Tiberius-Constitutionus
Tiberius-Constitutionus

Right you are. Everybody knows Ron Burgundy is the liberal's favorite anchor man. Well, everybody except the LilBooger / IReport / kayaker troglodytes.

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

Net Neutrality Fight Likely Headed Back to Court

--------

Obozo lost the last time this happened.

Seems there ARE limits on liberal fascists ability to increase government control of things they have no business meddling in.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@LilBarryBailout

Of course it's headed back to court. You thought your telcom masters wouldn't try to buy off the judiciary, as is their habit?

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@LilBarryBailout @Visual_Cortex

Horrendous problems? Present tense? You really don't understand what's at stake here, do you.

FWIW, all that I've seen so far are little nibbles some carriers have made. And they're so esoteric I'm really not in the mood to explain them to you.

Try reading something beyond what you're spoon-fed for a change and educate yourself.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

Look above. (and with that, I'm done doing your homework for you.)

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

@Visual_Cortex @LilBarryBailout

I'm quite familiar with the issue.  And I've yet to see any coherent argument for government regulation of the internet.

And your kneejerk reaction is to bend over and salute whenever Your Idiot Messiah takes over more control of private enterprise.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@LilBarryBailout @Visual_Cortex

 more intrusive government

That really is your kneejerk reaction to any regulatory change proposed by someone not of your ilk, isn't it?

Sheesh.

It's obvious you haven't a clue as to what's at stake here. Just admit it, and at minimum, read the damn Wired article I'd linked.

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

@Visual_Cortex

Why should I read your nonsensical babbling again?  You've provided no reasoning for more intrusive government or federal control of the internet.  You were done twenty minutes ago.

Robtown
Robtown

Much like the wingnuts who have removed the years 2000-2008 from their collective (age addled) memory.

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

@Robtown

2000 wasn't all that great, what with the internet bubble bursting and al Qaeda training on our soil.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@Orange14

??

Why wouldn't it be true? BHO had asked for this authorization during the SOTU, and IIRC, earlier than that.