Sue Josep, Carolyn Rickett







Embedding, embellishing and embarrassing: Brian Williams 'misremembers' but social media reminds him

Brian Williams enjoyed the trust of his organisation and audience for 10 years as NBC's Nightly News anchor and managing editor. But on the night of 30 January 2015 during a broadcast, his high profile status began to unravel. Venerated as a reliable news source, Williams was forced to explain his legendary story of survival one day in the skies above the Iraq War of 2003. His version of an attack on a Chinook helicopter he was travelling in was circulated and valorised by his own corporation for 12 years. But when American soldier Lance Reynolds and other military personnel challenged the veracity of his version, the corporation was forced to suspend him. Williams equates his rewriting and false reporting of this historical event as an act of 'misremembering'. This assertion is a clear breach of the Society of Professional Journalists' code: 'Ethical journalism strives to ensure the free exchange of information that is accurate, fair and thorough. An ethical journalist acts with integrity'.[1] However, the focus of this paper is on the viral audience social media response and the ways in which the production of mocking online tweets and posts served to critique and ridicule Williams's claim of 'misremembering', thus holding him to account. And as such, the ongoing circulation and preservation of memes satirically re-appropriating historical moments, continue to shame Williams and his journalism practice.

Keywords: Brian Williams, 'misremembering', ethics, NBC, rewriting historical events, memes, social media


References

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Note on the contributor

Dr Sue Joseph has been a journalist for more than thirty five years, working both in Australia and the UK. As Senior Lecturer, Joseph teaches across the undergraduate and postgraduate programmes at UTS, in both the journalism and writing schools. She has published four books: She's my wife, he's just sex (1997), The literary journalist and degrees of detachment: An ethical investigation (2009), Speaking secrets (2012) and Behind the text: Candid conversations with Australian creative nonfiction writers (2016). Last year, she co-edited two books: The profiling handbook and Profile pieces: Journalism and the 'human interest' bias. Her research interests have been around sexuality, secrets and confession, framed by the media, trauma narrative, HDR supervision, creative nonfiction and literary journalism, memoir and creative writing, including poetry and short stories.

Dr Carolyn Rickett is an Assistant Dean of Research, Senior Lecturer in Communication and creative arts practitioner at Avondale College of Higher Education. She has worked as co-ordinator for the New Leaves writing project, an initiative for people who have experienced or are experiencing the trauma of a life-threatening illness. Together with Judith Beveridge, she is co-editor of the New Leaves poetry anthology. Other anthologies she has co-edited with Judith include Wording the world, Here, not there and A way of happening. Carolyn's research publications include the areas of: trauma studies, writing as therapeutic intervention, memoir, cancer narratives, journalism, literary studies, poetry praxis and professional ethics.