The Sticky Effect of Facebook and Social Media: Be Careful What You Claim


The latest victim of Facebook and social media scrutiny of what celebrities say or claim to have been experienced is Brian Williams, news anchor and managing editor of NBC News, but he is not the first nor will he be the last to have  inflated assertions of heroism or derring-do and then to have to walk them back as miss-speaking or as Mr. Williams said, “conflating” what he said with what really happened.

Some say he is fighting for his career as a result.

In 2008, Hillary Rodham Clinton, at George Washington University, claimed that she landed “under sniper fire” while First Lady on a trip to Bosnia in 1996.  She was supposed to be engaged in a landing ceremony, but claimed that things were just “too dangerous” for that.  “There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport,” Mrs. Clinton said. “But instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base.”

Video of the landing ceremony showed no evidence of sniper fire and when confronted with the inconsistent version, Mrs. Clinton said she had merely “misspoke.”

Earlier this week, it was reported that NBC anchor Brian Williams lied about his tall tale of being shot at with a rocket propelled grenade by Islamic terrorists while on board a Chinook helicopter in Iraq in 2003 and has since stepped aside from his anchor role while the network completes an internal investigation of not only the Iraq incident but of other alleged inconsistencies in his reporting, including those involving Hurricane Katrina.

The incident under scrutiny came after crew members on the 159th Aviation Regiment’s Chinook that was hit by two rockets and small arms fire told Stars and Stripes that the NBC anchor was nowhere near that aircraft or two other Chinooks flying in the formation that took fire. Williams arrived in the area about an hour later on another helicopter a.fter the other three had made an emergency landing, the crew members said.
Here’s the Facebook exchange in which Mr. Williams appears to be filing another report on the same incident, tucking in an apology wrapped in paying tribute to a decorated soldier:


There are of course other events by politicians, celebrities, and others captured by camera phone, smart phone video, and Twitter that cast their reputations in a bad light or suggested significant miss-statements about a made-up past or views not meant for a wider public, but the point is that one’s actions and statements that heretofore could not be captured or waved off as not uttered can now be uploaded for the world to see and here as well as judge for itself.  Social media is now doing the shoe-leather investigative reporting that traditional journalists did in the past….or didn’t do.

What will come of the latest incident involving Mr. Williams is unclear.  An internal NBC News investigation is scrutinizing the entire news reportage history of its current anchor.  And while Mrs. Clinton has not yet announced her candidacy for president, no doubt her past statements will come to bear on her candidacy if she does.

The lesson here is not to miss-speak because Facebook or other forms of social media may record it and catch you up on it, but that claims made in public by public citizens and celebrities whose reputation is based on the public trust should be accompanied by reflection and deliberation.  And when those statements or alleged events did not happen as they were claimed, deep and unabashed apologies need to go hand in hand with the attempt to crawl back out of the  hole and restore the public’s trust.  Some things don’t just blow over or can be waved away as “conflations,” which I had to look up and which means “combining (two or more texts, ideas, etc.) into one.”

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