It’s a little difficult to understand why Brian Williams is facing such an intense degree of opprobrium and punishment for a single moment of embellished war reporting. If you look at what he did, it’s really not that big a deal. In the current media landscape, most people could apologize, accept some symbolic rebuke, and move on. It’s not going to happen with him. He appears to be finished. So, what’s really going on?
The Brian Williams flap is about something else, something bigger, that America is experiencing. The episode gives us a view into the underlying dynamics of an important but somewhat misunderstood national discussion, Income Inequality. Williams allegedly earns $10 million a year for his services as NBC News anchor. There’s nothing wrong with this salary. He earns it through hard work. He was chosen from a broad field of talent for one of the top slots in the media world. With that role, comes great wealth. At the same time, Williams is emblematic of a major division taking place in American life.
After decades of upward mobility from a growing middle class, the country has cleaved into two groups: Those of us who work for a living with a Sword of Damocles of permanent unemployment and no pensions hanging over our heads; And those who earn millions by offshoring American jobs as bonus-guaranteed CEOs, investing other people’s money, or being handsome on television, free of consequences and accountability. Williams is in the latter group, by a wide margin.
The sin Williams committed was to overstep the boundaries of his elite cocoon and steal the hard-earned honor of those who actually work for a living. In a country where insulated elites start wars that others must fight, Williams committed the unforgivable sin of filching the bravery of the soldier in the field. The Iraq War cost America tens of thousands of young lives, either dead, wounded, or emotionally maimed. Many of the casualties were from the short end of the income inequality stick. For attempting to bask in the unearned glory of this group, Williams is being obliterated. No apology will remove this from his record.
NBC Photo: Justin Stephens