We seem to be in the season of truth is stranger than fiction news stories.
Here in Israel we have the story that could not have been made up by stoned gag writers trying to craft a skit about an inane issue that dominates election news flow. Of course I am referring to “Bottlegate,” in which the Lady Macbeth-like Sara Netanyahu is accused of pocketing…ok, are you sitting down?…4,000 shekels (about $1,000) OVER NINE YEARS from bottle returns!
Never one to be topped, we now have from America the bizarre story of NBC News anchorman Brian Williams having been caught in a (you supply the noun) concerning a combat news story in Afghanistan, for which he is taking an indefinite leave of absence.
I readily confess that until the story broke I had given very little thought to the man. We don’t get NBC in Israel, and I hardly look at TV at all, in any language for any reason. I did of course know that Williams had inherited a position of great esteem in America – prime time network news anchorman, and that he certainly looks the part, with probity combined with maybe a wee too much good looks and perfect hair.
In the media coverage the story is a shock, more for who Williams is than for what he (you supply the verb) about. For Williams, like Antony’s Caesar, is an honorable man. He is supposed to be objective, truthful, and of course believable.
The Afghanistan bubbe-meiser, which Williams now concedes was a fabrication, has of course made other Ernie Pyle/Edward R Murrow on-the-scene news accounts questionable, to say the least.
But I think the real story that Brian Williams has revealed – truthfully at that – is not so much about himself, but the society he speaks to and in turn reflects.
Brian Williams is the personification of Western Civ in 2015. His great sin is not lying, it is wishful thinking. Just like with Brian Williams, Western political leadership is focused on the world that they would like to see in place, not the reality that is in front of their eyes.
The willful suspension of disbelief is supposed to be the province of the movie theater, not the State Department, the European Union, and certainly not the West Wing of the White House.
But the world as we can imagine it is now the stock in trade of Western leaders. Iran, now by its own gloating admission, controls four foreign capitals, in its quest for regional hegemony? What else to do, but empower Iran with a nuke, which will surely make them a more responsible, grounded and reasonable State actor.
So so-called radical Islamic terrorists are wreaking havoc in most locales of the West, and are especially seeking to have a field day there with Jews and with Christians in the Middle East?
Well, lots of Peoples have bad apples, Muslims have no monopoly on violence and by the way, all those verses from the Koran that accompany beheadings, burnings and bombings have nothing to do with Islam, which is a religion of peace.
Posters warning visitors that they are entering a Sharia-law imposed here zone somewhere in the UK, France, Sweden, Denmark or Belgium? Europe is a big tent, where peoples from different cultures are being empowered to see to their own needs and priorities.
The list goes on, but the pattern is the same. Just as Brian Williams imagined he was taking flak, or drinking polluted hurricane waters, or flying over a volley of Hezbollah Katyushas in a chopper, the leadership of the West is increasingly inclined to imagine that a combination of disregarding the facts and hoping against common sense will produce outcomes that guarantee peace and security.
The scary reality is of course quite the opposite. Appeasement and delusion only make societies all the more vulnerable.
This leads us to the second way the Williams saga mirrors the face of the West: what happens when the fantasy of it all is revealed. In Williams’s case, everything he has reported on has now become suspect.
In the case of the West, we are leaving ourselves open to a massive sense of betrayal when all the policies built on a Williams-style view of the world fall apart.
And finally, there are likely parallels for what happens afterwards. For Williams, it is likely the end of his career, certainly in the role of august expositor of the news. Sure, he might get a game show to host, or even a reality show, but he will no longer be the second coming of Walter Cronkite.
For the West, the picture is much less clear, and much more frightening. The real question is how much damage will have already been inflicted by the time there is widespread awareness that our leaders have hornswoggled us, or, even worse, that we have hornswoggled ourselves?
And will we be able to recover from the massive delusion? Will we be able to make it all right, better and more sane?
Rather than view Williams’s story as a personal tragedy, we should regard it as a warning, a shot across the bow for what is happening to us on the world stage.
Ultimately, just as with Brian Williams, we need to ask of ourselves: just what are we thinking?