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

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Ethical Space: the international journal of communication ethics, 2017, 14 (1), pp. 32 - 41
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“It felt like a personal experience that someone else wanted to participate in and didn’t deserve to participate in.” 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 January 30, 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. 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 challenged the veracity of his version of historical events, 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 how the Society of Professional Journalists missions its American members: ‘ethical journalism strives to ensure the free exchange of information that is accurate, fair and thorough. An ethical journalist acts with integrity’. NBC responded to this breach by suspending Williams for six months. However, the focus of this paper is audience response and the ways in which the production of new online texts, in the form of satirical memes, ubiquitously serves to critique and ridicule Williams’ claim of ‘misremembering’. And as such, the circulation of these online memes which re-appropriate historical moments, lend themselves in turn to the manufacture of parodic artefacts.
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