The Big Mac Blog

We are all Brian Williams, stupidly looking for an RPG

NBC news anchor Brian Williams has taken a leave of absence. He is pictured here before moderating a Presidential debate.
NBC news anchor Brian Williams has taken a leave of absence. He is pictured here before moderating a Presidential debate. NYT

Brian Williams, a man who has traveled the globe, met some of the world’s most influential leaders, been at the forefront at some of this century’s most compelling events, performed on Late Night TV, hammed it up with Tina Fey on a hit sitcom, thinks he is dull. If Brian Williams is boring, the rest of us are screwed.

Despite so many things that ostensibly he has in favor, Brian Williams is just another insecure guy at the party who takes an actual story and adds a few more sentences, or paragraphs, to create just a bit more drama and ensure he slayed the room. We all do, or have done, it.

Maybe it is to impress a boss. To impress a girl. Or a guy. Or a friend. Or a neighbor. Or a potential client. Or an audience of millions with David Letterman.

But why in God’s name would Williams feel the need to embellish what must be a library’s worth of good stories? Because he is no different than the rest of us - he knows the difference between a good story and a great one. That’s why his chopper was hit by an RPG.

Despite no ostensible reason to do so, or feel this way, somewhere inside Brian Williams obviously feels like the rest of us - not good enough, and a giant fraud pretending to know more than we do, and wishing like hell we were more than we are. So even he exaggerates and embellishes the “boring” stuff to make it a little bit more riveting.

We have all added an RPG to our most recent tale of woe because we fail to realize there is no need because life is going to shoot one at us soon enough. Not every story can be a great one.

The consequences of being caught turning a safe landing into a crash landing because of an RPG are quite different than when you do it at a dinner party than to millions of viewers who assume you are above such insecure practices.

Williams, 55, is currently taking a leave of absence from his role as the face of NBC News after it was learned he lied about being on a U.S. Army helicopter that was shot down in Iraq. According to this column from Maureen Dowd of The New York Times, NBC execs were aware that for years Williams had been taking a few liberties with the facts. Because we live in such a mean and nasty online world that takes pleasure in the failure of others, Williams’ reputation will likely not survive this hit. Ask Dan Rather how these sorts of things go.

What Williams did not realize is that he did not need to embellish in order to have a good story, either on air or to his buddies at a swank party in midtown Manhattan. Somewhere he felt that it was not enough to be on a military chopper in Iraq in a war zone. That the chopper had to be hit by an RPG.

On some level we have all done, or do, this. Maybe we take the doctor’s report of “It’s probably nothing” and tell our friends, “It could be cancer”.

What we don’t often realize, or accept, is that no one will think any less of us if we just say, “The doctor said it’s probably nothing”. No one would have thought any less of Williams had he said: “The chopper I was on landed one hour after another was hit by an RPG. It’s a reminder of the valor that these brave men and women deal with every day here.”

Brian Williams is a fraud, and he knows it, and that’s OK. Get in line.

So he was not on the helicopter that was shot down by an RPG in Iraq - who cares? He was in Iraq, with the U.S. military in a war zone. Brian, that’s good enough.

So what if Brian Williams is not the type of newsman that took artillery fire in order to report a story? No A-list news anchor does that any more because they don’t have to. The days of big-time newsman delivering harsh news from the front lines of Vietnam are no more. You don’t think Walter Cronkite would have gladly taken Williams’ gig?

Some reporters do work in war zones, and actually may be killed. Williams has graduated from that. He makes millions. He is a star. He stays in the Ritz Carlton during Hurricane Katrina coverage. Good for him. He is lying to himself, and us, if he believes any of his viewers actually think he is out there sleeping in dirt tents, drinking water from urinals, etc.

There is no need to rub anybody’s face in his posh lifestyle, and there is no need to feel guilt about it, either.

Not everyone can do, and be, everything. Not every single story can be gripping, and worthy of a screen rights deal to Steven Spielberg. Sometimes you have to listen to someone else at the party because what they did may actually trump your story. This is not a competition.

Perhaps Williams lied because he is a news guy, and he knows the difference between a good and a great story. The RPG made his story great. The sad part is that Brian Williams, like most of us, did not need to lie, or embellish, because the truth is OK.

The trick is to be OK with the stories that are indeed good enough, and realize that not every story has a “fantastic finish”, or payoff punchline. Sometimes the chopper just lands safely. Life will hit you with an RPG soon enough, and rather than make it up just be OK when it doesn’t.

Mac Engel, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @macengelprof