The brouhaha over Brian Williams’ actual combat engagements in Iraq in 2003 has netted him a six-month suspension without pay from NBC’s news broadcasts. He’s trying to keep his night job hoping we’ll forget his need to deceive the public with misinformation.
That’s until he’s caught again with his prevaricating pants down. NBC management had been meeting to decide if a more lengthy suspension, a more sincere apology, or out-and-out dismissal was necessary. His actions reminded me of a typical politician. Williams’ attempt to embellish his war experiences has political veteran military personnel, particularly the infantry and artillery types, outraged. He also has his peers on full news attack mode over his actions.
But I suggest many feign their discontent over Williams. And for us veterans, media or otherwise, we have to be honest. Most of us acknowledge Audie Murphy and Chesty Puller wannabes exaggerate their combat exploits daily at military command happy hour or lining the bar at the local VFW. Combatants know the type and, sadly, military public affairs folks and civilian broadcasters and journalists remain the worst.
I was an infantry squad leader during combat operations in Vietnam. The kind that entitles you to wear the Combat Action Ribbon. You actually engage the enemy to rate one. Upon returning stateside I was reassigned to the PR field and sent to the Defense Information School (DINFOS) at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana. They subsequently moved instruction to Fort Meade, Maryland.
The course is twelve intensive weeks of college credit courses that provide members of the U.S. military, DOD civilians, and international military personnel journalism and broadcasting training. Sadly, a large dose of ego is generally developed by these DINFOS-trained killers, as they are commonly referred to. They receive the military occupational specialty of “combat correspondent.” Whether it be a civilian or military newsroom, the internal politics are ruthless.
What has always been humorous to me is how, in Williams fashion, a vast number of combat correspondents boast harrowing near-death experiences while never actually engaging the enemy themselves or seeing a shot fired in anger. Yes, some correspondents are embedded with units. Not to fight but to chronicle or broadcast events. But the danger is real.
In Williams’ case, he could have actually been bitten by a scorpion getting off a carnival kiddie helicopter ride in Bagdad. That’s the closest he ever got to the actual sting of battle. Or he could have wounded himself opening a can of rations. Now that’s a believable story.
It’s fascinating to compare and contrast Williams to a genuine media icon like Joe Rosenthal who won a Pulitzer for his legendary photo, “Flag Raising on Iwo Jima,” in 1945. Rosenthal, a personal friend, passed away in 2006 but experienced more combat in his life than most military men, women, or media types would ever imagine. Unlike Williams, his comments were always about the pride or heroic efforts of sailors, soldiers, airmen, and Marines he chronicled while seldom speaking of incredible dangers he legitimately faced.
While I mingle at times with area politicians who have a military background, I’ve never even actually heard a war story from bona fide combat vets like Delegate Scott Lingamfelter or Richard Anderson of Prince William County. Why? Well, there remains the old military adage, “He who talks most about their combat experiences … has seen the least.” And the worst thing these two ambitious politicos could do is try to talk down to a veteran when they are no longer in command, but are commanded in representation by today’s vets.
True combatants frankly have no desire to repeatedly discuss chaotic events like seeing comrades mutilated by fire or taking life. To their credit, Lingamfelter and Anderson have not forgotten where they came from and remain two of the general assembly’s more dutiful veterans in a locality full of active duty types and retirees. But I assure you there are plenty of veteran blowhards who will share, with anyone who will listen, amplified heroics while boring them with stories of the arduous responsibility of “command.” Avoid these at all costs.
Like others, my war has been over for over 45 years but some memories regrettably are part of our daily existence. The last thing most of us want to do is discuss the carnage that surrounds those memories or hear them from others, especially politicians, media, or otherwise.
Narcissistic politicos use emotional subtleties to curry the public’s favor with tales of derring-do to feed inflated egos. Amplifying their importance is necessary to encourage patrons to finance a campaign or continue watching their newscasts. They’re easy to spot. It will be the braggart seeking sympathy or acceptance but actually demonstrating the self-aggrandizing Brian Williams syndrome.
Daniel Cortez, a distinguished Vietnam veteran and award-winning writer/broadcaster, is active in veterans and political affairs with an independent voter perspective. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.