Steyn on Brian Williams

He’s the one we’ve been waiting for. The inimitable Mark Steyn has taken on Brian Williams, perhaps the most satirized figure in public life of the last month.  Actually, with Williams, Steyn offers both wisdom and potshots, musing on the way memories embellish themselves over the years, but pointing out the egregiousness not only of Williams’ self-promotion, but the failure of the NBC organization to do much beyond ensure that his hair is perfect when he appears on camera.

As always with Steyn, there is something in every paragraph, almost every sentence, to make you laugh, think, or learn something about show tunes, ballet, or another of Steyn’s eclectic trove expertise. A couple of examples.

On memory:

…my general view of "personal stories" (including my own) was summed up by Mel Brooks on stage a few decades back reminiscing about his life. After one especially uproarious anecdote, he said, "I swear every word is true. Well, no. The mildly funny stuff is true. The mezzo-mezzo stuff is mostly true. But the reallyfunny stuff is entirely invented." That formula applies to the dramatic stuff, too. As you tell a story over the years, as Brian Williams did with his RPG-hit-chopper shtick, it gets too honed, too sharp.

Then too there is the phenomenon that creeps with age - when anecdotes you once told about other people mutate into anecdotes you tell about yourself. The first example of this I encountered, back when I was very young, was the great Royal Ballet choreographer Sir Frederick Ashton, who regaled me with a string of fascinating personal stories, all of which I discovered, upon returning home, had happened to Diaghilev or Massine or Ninette de Valois.

But again: I can understand that. You were there. You were part of the scene. You knew the people. You laughed and smoked and danced with them. Why couldn't it have been you who got off the devastatingly witty retort?

But I find it harder to believe that a man can "accidentally" claim his helicopter has been hit by an RPG. You have to feel that to know what it's like. And, if you've never felt it, how can you "accidentally" go around describing it to David Letterman on TV and Alec Baldwin on radio for years on end?

On NBC’s editorial mechanism:

Assuredly there's been some turnover in NBC News since 2003. So maybe nobody working on the program now was working on it then. But in TV you're always looking for ways to show rather than announce, so, if you've got a line like that on Brian's prompter, it defies belief that someone wouldn't have said, "Hey, grab that footage out of the archive." And then the intern comes back from the basement and says, "Um, it was somebody else's helicopter that got forced down..."

I would wager, even as Williams read his line, that most everyone who mattered on the show knew it wasn't true. And maybe one or two of them looked nervously at each other in the control room, but let it go. Hey, he's the star, right? NBC Nightly News with Walter Mitty reporting.

Read the whole thing.

He’s the one we’ve been waiting for. The inimitable Mark Steyn has taken on Brian Williams, perhaps the most satirized figure in public life of the last month.  Actually, with Williams, Steyn offers both wisdom and potshots, musing on the way memories embellish themselves over the years, but pointing out the egregiousness not only of Williams’ self-promotion, but the failure of the NBC organization to do much beyond ensure that his hair is perfect when he appears on camera.

As always with Steyn, there is something in every paragraph, almost every sentence, to make you laugh, think, or learn something about show tunes, ballet, or another of Steyn’s eclectic trove expertise. A couple of examples.

On memory:

…my general view of "personal stories" (including my own) was summed up by Mel Brooks on stage a few decades back reminiscing about his life. After one especially uproarious anecdote, he said, "I swear every word is true. Well, no. The mildly funny stuff is true. The mezzo-mezzo stuff is mostly true. But the reallyfunny stuff is entirely invented." That formula applies to the dramatic stuff, too. As you tell a story over the years, as Brian Williams did with his RPG-hit-chopper shtick, it gets too honed, too sharp.

Then too there is the phenomenon that creeps with age - when anecdotes you once told about other people mutate into anecdotes you tell about yourself. The first example of this I encountered, back when I was very young, was the great Royal Ballet choreographer Sir Frederick Ashton, who regaled me with a string of fascinating personal stories, all of which I discovered, upon returning home, had happened to Diaghilev or Massine or Ninette de Valois.

But again: I can understand that. You were there. You were part of the scene. You knew the people. You laughed and smoked and danced with them. Why couldn't it have been you who got off the devastatingly witty retort?

But I find it harder to believe that a man can "accidentally" claim his helicopter has been hit by an RPG. You have to feel that to know what it's like. And, if you've never felt it, how can you "accidentally" go around describing it to David Letterman on TV and Alec Baldwin on radio for years on end?

On NBC’s editorial mechanism:

Assuredly there's been some turnover in NBC News since 2003. So maybe nobody working on the program now was working on it then. But in TV you're always looking for ways to show rather than announce, so, if you've got a line like that on Brian's prompter, it defies belief that someone wouldn't have said, "Hey, grab that footage out of the archive." And then the intern comes back from the basement and says, "Um, it was somebody else's helicopter that got forced down..."

I would wager, even as Williams read his line, that most everyone who mattered on the show knew it wasn't true. And maybe one or two of them looked nervously at each other in the control room, but let it go. Hey, he's the star, right? NBC Nightly News with Walter Mitty reporting.

Read the whole thing.