Make No Mistake: Brian Williams and the Public’s Intolerance for Mistakes
The Brian Williams “misremembering” scandal is yet another example of the public’s penchant for taking down public figures. In an era when the speed of the news moves faster than the actual news, it’s no longer a surprise to watch careers go down in flames on live TV. What’s surprising is the enjoyment the public gets out of watching it happen.
Whether or not Brian Williams purposely misled the public is still in question. What we can all agree on is that he made a critical journalistic error that even a substandard reporter couldn’t get a way with at a local TV station with minimal viewership. The difference between these two examples, of course, is that Brian Williams is wealthy and famous, and the public has a decreased tolerance for mistakes made by the rich.
With moral and manufactured outrage at a societal peak, thanks to 24/7 news coverage and real-time social media, the stakes are higher than ever for public figures and companies that make mistakes. While the mortal among us are at leisure to make on-the-job mistakes and even experience frequent lapses in judgment, those in the public eye are afforded no such freedoms. Each and every move made by public figures are scrutinized to the highest degree and mercilessly mocked on social media.
Our newfound intolerance for mistakes puts public figures in constant danger of being outed by the media for wrongdoing, and our impossible expectations threaten to take down even the most decent among them. Brian Williams may indeed have purposely misled the public in order to prop himself and his image as a reporter-crusader, and if so he should walk away from the news desk. However, as a reporter with an otherwise impeccable reputation, it shouldn’t be outside the realm of possibility that we give him the benefit of the doubt.
With the media consistently lowering itself to paparazzi-like journalistic standards to meet the public’s insatiable appetite for information, the public is in a constant state of eavesdropping on complete strangers. Being so removed from the public figures we criticize, it’s easy to forget that they are, in fact, only human. We forget that beneath the shields of concealer and Photoshop is a flesh and blood human, a creature with an imperfect memory, a penchant for self-preservation, and a habit of stretching the truth.
In recent years, we’ve seen dozens of companies and public figures get butchered in the press, with some being more deserving than others. As quickly as public apologies are issued, the public is even quicker to mock and discard them, while simultaneously burning books, CDs, jerseys, subscriptions, membership cards, and posters. There is no end in sight to the collective outrage often caused by our peering into areas of people’s lives not intended for our viewing. Text messages and emails will continue to be hacked, intimate photos will continue to be smeared across the globe, and private conversations will continue to be recorded and released to the public. At the rate we’re going, no one is safe from a public shakedown.
Does our appetite for information put public figures at risk for unfair criticism, or does it come with the territory? Leave your thoughts in the comments section, or tweet me @nataliepetitto.