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Brian Williams as Reported

What about the fish that got away?  It gets bigger every time you tell the story.  Why does it get bigger?  Well it makes the story more interesting and makes you more important.  We all seem to have a natural tendency to make every telling of a story more and more dramatic.

When you cross this with being on national network news, the tendency is also naturally fed by the need to make stories more dramatic, even melodramatic, to get the ratings you need to survive.  That seems to be the case with Brian Williams, of NBC, and his 2003 Iraq War recollections.  The story crept further and further from reality with every telling.

The same publicly happened to Hillary Clinton with her recollections of experiences in Bosnia, although that creep was a rapid one and quickly stifled by video footage.

Most of are not held in check by social media or news video footage of the events in our lives, so the story creep happens without abeyance.

But when a newscaster or politician does a story creep, it puts the News or Public Policy up for closer inspection.

We see this creeping all the time on the news.  The “bellicose rhetoric” of a suspect nation becomes warnings of full out war.  Why?  Well, for the same reasons – adds importance to the teller and makes the story more dramatic and interesting.

More often than not, we are not even aware of the story creep.  The 24 hour news cycle leaves the talking heads needing something to say.  The feedback from ratings says the more dramatic and life threatening their message is the better.  The lure towards the lurid is always at hand.

There are very few checks and balances to the desire to overly dramatize the news.  On the contrary, there is every pressure to keep it moving to direr and direr speculation.  Last spring, the US was worried about a North Korea attack.  Really?  One of the poorest and least developed countries in the world was going to be aggressive against one of the largest most developed ones?  It strains credibility – but was entirely believable to the US populace for weeks on end.  Fear seems to be a deep well to draw from.

Brian Williams' Reality

In the case of Brian Williams, was he complicit or just a pawn in his own psychology?  Probably a little of both.  At least he was honest enough to admit he had made a mistake and let the story get away on him.  And for that he took more flak than if he had ignored it.

Sitting in the chair he has on a major nightly news broadcast, he is a big fish.  But it comes with big responsibilities.

We should all be aware of how the story will creep on us, taking a step back and asking if something is true or too good to be true is a good first step.  And a healthy skepticism should always be in play.

Now about that 50 pound salmon I had right up to the boat before it kicked the lure…

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