I used to look up to the news anchors that I saw on American television. In the early 1980s there were only a handful. It was a time just before Ted Turner launched CNN and our only evening news options were NBC, CBS, ABC and Public Broadcasting. The anchors were polished – they looked nice in a suit, parked proudly at a news desk. They also somehow managed to be in their element while donning a flak jacket in some warzone half a world away. Every evening I would watch the global reports and dream about one day sitting in one of those desks and sharing the facts with the viewers. To me, it seemed the noblest of professions. And, I think, at the time, it was.
My grandfather was a journalist. For decades he was an editor for a daily newspaper. He is honest, brave and seems to care about helping the world tell its stories. So it only seemed natural that my respect for him and my interest in broadcast news would one day lead me to a career in journalism. There were plenty of characters from which I could draw inspiration. Simply put, role models weren’t in short supply.
Fast-forward 25 years and the world isn’t what it was. While it sounds trite, I can’t help but say it that way, especially where the field of journalism is concerned. Here in the US the past week’s headlines only further prove this. Arguably one of the biggest names in American television news, Brian Williams, announced he is taking a leave of absence from NBC News’s flagship broadcast. This after critics raised questions about the validity of a number of stories he’s covered in the past two decades. Last week the embattled anchor even publicly apologised for having “misremembered” events that took place while he was embedded with the US military in Iraq in 2003. Williams has repeatedly recounted that a helicopter in which he was travelling was struck by enemy fire and forced down. It now appears the story was simply not true.
Many have come forward, including members of the military, to refute Williams’ account. Thus, the apology. Also in question is his coverage of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. But here’s the thing: when you’re entrusted with telling us the truth – even paid millions of dollars for it – is it as easy as saying “I’m sorry”?
Public opinion seems to be working against the man. And he is now in all the sensational headlines that he himself used to write. I just wonder what a young me would make of all of this? Would I still feel compelled to be this person someday? One thing is for sure, he and the countless other media glitterati that embellish stories to sell news surely aren’t role models. And if not to them, then to whom should those coming up through the ranks look?
Tristan McAllister is Monocle’s transport editor.