Shot down in the Middle East. Saved a three week old puppy from a fire. Survived a killer gang and a killer flood in Hurricane Katrina, and even a debilitating ailment, most associated with war time: ingesting flood water and surviving dysentary.
If all this is not enough, we now learn that he was held up at gunpoint...for Christmas, which media is now reporting.
These tales are not chronological but do show insight into his character. Although people will soon, quickly enough, tire of "Brian Williams' Stories", this statement has enough information to be of educational value.
By now, most know that Brian Williams is a deceiver, but as each new account is uncovered, two themes develop. One theme is about Williams and the other about media. The media are like sharks on blood. Some have written that this latest tale has been "debunked" by locals. The "debunking" is, itself, bunk. Media simply spoke to someone who, in the 70's, was a few blocks away and does not believe Williams' story. I don't believe his stories, either, but simply guessing is not the same as "debunking" his story.
In his unending superhero-like language, here Williams describes being at the wrong end of a lethal weapon. Rather than simple dismissal, is there something in the language that indicates deception, or even possible deception?
Like all statements, however, there are the 'fingerprints', or the profile of the author, that emerges. What do you learn from this statement? I have emphasized some of the wording, but with little analysis.
What do you learn about the subject, himself, via his words? Post your opinion in the comments section.
"Let me set the scene for you. We're at dinner at the Holidome--the Holiday Inn in Joplin, Missouri. If you don't mind the whiff of chlorine from the pool during your meal, it's a lot like being in the islands. It's 1982, I'm twenty-three, and I've arrived. I'm going to work in television. The station that's hiring me--KOAM in Pittsburg, Kansas--has cows grazing at the base of the antenna for the transmitter. My $168-a-week salary is mighty skinny, but it's the down payment on a dream. Over are the days of pouring blueberry syrup at the pancake house, cleaning toilets, and looking up at a thug's snub-nosed .38 while selling Christmas trees out of the back of a truck.
Note the passivity. He does not say that he, himself, had a thug's snub nose .38 held to him.
Note the articles.
Follow pronouns always.
This is more consistent with the pattern that most deceivers employ in the shaving of language, rather than the outright direct lie. Follow the pronouns and note any changes.
Television was a pretty outlandish target where I came from. I was the only guy in the firehouse back in Jersey reading The New York Times. I won't tell you what the other publications in the back room were. About the last thing you're going to tell your buddy on Engine 210 is "You know, I'm going to try to be a network-television journalist someday." So there I am, without a college degree, having a Salisbury steak at the Holidome with the manager of a station whose initials stand for Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri--a guy named Bill Bengtson.
"One problem," Bill says. "is too East Coast, Irish-Catholic sounding. You're going to need a more germane, localized on-air name."
Even then I realize I must remain open to these unexpected twists. But when Bill suggests a name, I'm crestfallen. How am I going to tell my mother that the name she so loved, Brian Douglas Williams, has been turned into Elmer Nord?
I'm forever getting approached in airports by people who say, "I saw you on Jon Stewart. I didn't know you . . ." There's an uncomfortable pause, and I feel compelled to take them off the hook and finish the sentence: ". . . had a personality at all?"
Well, my mother was a boisterous lover of life, very proud of the side of her family that was off-the-boat Irish. She was like an actress--equal parts Bea Arthur and Eve Arden--and her unstated credo was that life is too short. Incongruously, she married Calvin Coolidge, a taciturn New Englander whose mother dried and reused paper towels. Suffice to say, all it takes is a look in the mirror, or to hear myself on a recording, and I can conjure images of both my parents.
I was raised in upstate New York in Elmira--a red spot in a blue state--and the two career tugs I felt in childhood also came to me in images of red and blue. What can I say? I've never been much for pastels.
Elmira was honest-to-God small-town America, a place where you could always tell what your neighbors were watching on television because of the blue glow on their shades when the light dipped just before a commercial or during a scene change. If you were watching the same show, you saw the same blue dips. It was one of my first fascinations with television. I found television to be a romantic medium because it took you places. It might be to Los Angeles and Johnny Carson, to Dallas when Jack Ruby shot Oswald, to Vietnam, to the surface of the moon.
About the biggest thing that ever happened in Elmira was the fire-department siren. One winter night, the siren announced a blaze that the old-timers still remember--at the Cash Electric store. I was in my pajamas, but my dad said, "C'mon, get in the car." When we got there, it seemed like half of downtown was burning. I was eight years old, shivering in pajamas and a winter coat, but my vivid image is the firefighters with icicles dripping off their helmets. So, blue was the glow off the television screen, and red was the call of the fire engines.
Note within these sentences that he is now using the pronoun "I" and past tense verbs strongly.
Compare this with the above, about the .38.
When I was ten, we moved to the Jersey shore.
Note the strength of this sentence.
Middletown, New Jersey, which is a township really, a sprawling place with no defined center. During my adolescence, we watched the Twin Towers grow. On the occasions that I walked with my dad to the train platform, I'd notice the cold, gray masses in their raincoats with briefcases heading into New York. They were mostly white males, and they mostly did not look happy. It was a pretty easy thing to vow at a young age that I wasn't going to become them. I wanted something different for myself.
But I grew up in the land of exceedingly modest expectations. My high school guidance counselor sized up my lackluster grades and pointed me directly to the local community college. If you had told my father then that I was destined to become a network news anchor, he'd still be laughing now.
The minute I was old enough, I volunteered for the are department. All I have in common with the guys in that picture behind us is I've put on the gear. I would never rank myself any higher.
But I did hit it in the heyday. Regulations no longer allow firefighters to hang off the back step of the trucks. Back in my day, the thing to do was loop your arm over the pole, continue getting dressed in subzero temperatures, doing sixty miles per hour, careening around turns, while hopefully lighting a cigarette at the same time. That was the full package.
He does not say that this is what he did. Remember: direct deception is rare while simply using words to leave an impression is much more common.
Going into a fire is like driving a race car. You know you're alive, and every cell is working toward a unified cause. You're aware of every respiration. You're breathing through a self-contained device called a Scott Air-Pak. In the old days, you had fifteen minutes of air, and rookies quickly found out that the heart and respiration rate goes so fast that it's more like nine before the bell on your tank would start to ring. It was those hideous bells that you heard in the stillness after 9/11--the Air-Pak tanks that had expired and the motion detectors that go off when a firefighter doesn't move for a number of minutes. If you look at the documentaries about 9/11, in that dust, you're hearing the sound of guys whose air tanks have expired and aren't going to get up. And it closes up my throat. I would never, ever mention my name in the same sentence with a member of the FDNY. They were our personal gods--the best at what they do. Those guys who went into the World Trade Center, they knew. Like Captain Terry Hatton said to one of his friends: "Brother, something tells me I won't see you again." And then he went in.
a. Note: in context, he just did.
b. What do you make of using "FDNY" in this context? (think of the timing)
c. Note the change from the strong first person language prior to the fireman stories.
All I ever did as a volunteer fireman was once save two puppies.
Note how close he puts himself, via the pronoun "I" to the FDNY.
Note how many puppies he saved. When one does not work from experiential memory, it is difficult to keep track.
But I have an understanding--a link to those guys. Going to sleep with my boots, pants, jacket, and helmet next to the bed for so many years is still, to this day, the best training for the life I lead.
I've found the secret of life to be body placement. During a work-study job at Catholic University, I met Pope John Paul II on his visit to the campus simply by positioning myself at the top of the stairs of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. I just figured that's where he'd be stopping. For me, it's like some force intervenes. Go forward. Meet that person. To this day, that force guides me. It's an emotional intelligence. IQ.
It took me from the firehouse in New Jersey to Washington, where I got an internship in the Carter White House while studying at George Washington University. It wasn't the classic dorm experience. I have no reunions. No one can say they were my college roommate because I was always living in nonstandard housing and constantly working to get by.
One day, I'm at the copy machine in the White House and Walter Mondale comes up behind me and clears his throat. A classic throat-clearing. I thought people only did that in movies, but it turns out vice-presidents do it, too. Anyway, it makes for an exceptionally good morning, and I run from the White House to the GW campus for class. I'm still wearing my West Wing hard pass on a chain, and when my professor sees it, he admits that he's only been to the White House on the public tour. And I thought to myself, This is costing me money that I don't have, and I'm a young man in too much of a hurry. So I left school.
IQ is all about making your luck happen. Somehow it leads you to the right people. I was hired by a guy named Ken Schanzer at the National Association of Broadcasters. Schanzer would later become the president of NBC Sports. But at the time, it was he who introduced me to Bill Bengtson at KOAM and later conspired with him to play that little joke about changing my name to Elmer Nord.
I learned everything in Kansas, covered every story imaginable. That's the way to start in television. But I couldn't make it on my salary and went into terrible credit-card debt. I lost my credit, and there were times when I had absolutely no money to my name. I had to ask friends for meals. I once went five days without a dollar. To this day, I make sure I always have a folded dollar in my wallet. It's my talisman, my little reminder.
I returned to Washington and found myself perfectly positioned again. While working at WTTG, I met a beautiful woman. It was one of those lightning bolts, the stuff of inexpensive beach novels, but in this case it was true. In an instant I sensed Jane Stoddard's conscience, her integrity, and her intelligence. Unfailingly polite, funny, good company--she's a terrific mother to two great kids. She gives me not only, as Lyndon Johnson used to say, "the truth with the bark off," but a household that, compared with others in New York media circles, looks like something out of Leave It to Beaver.
At the end of each day now, I turn into the driveway and look at the house in front of me and know that I've worked for every cent of it. But I didn't even have a credit card when I met Jane. And to this day, I'm amazed that she showed such great faith in that total schlub.
People know me as the guy who took over for Tom Brokaw. But I've also been introduced by talk-show hosts with a video clip from a hurricane in Virginia Beach that was not intended to be funny.
I had noticed a strange dynamic of wind pushing itself through a gap between high-rises. The wind had nowhere else to go, and its velocity increased as it squeezed between buildings. I wanted to point out this phenomenon. My friend Mike Seidel had a wind gauge, and I asked him--while we were on live television--to hold it up so we could get a reading. Well, it broke, and Mike broke free from my grasp. He went flying. And so did I. I found out that Gore-Tex makes a perfect sail when it hits the wind at the right angle. It wasn't scary--it was almost exhilarating--but as soon as I hit the ground my cell phone was vibrating. It's my wife.
"Well, that was interesting," Jane says. "You know, that's going to be repeated quite a bit. You might make a call and ask if they could do it in context, to say what you were trying to show so it doesn't become just a Bob Saget moment."
Sadly, it has become a Bob Saget moment. Nothing against Bob Saget, who, to my knowledge, hasn't done anything quite so stupid.
Now that I'm enjoying success in life, it's quite natural for me to want to share it with my father, who's eighty-eight. But it's the damnedest thing trying to get him to accept. Last Christmas, my wife and I told him to pick a spot on the planet, and for his present, we'd send him there. We were concerned that he was going to choose the Grover Cleveland rest stop on the Jersey Turnpike for a sandwich from a vending machine. But God love him, he's seen the light, and I think Gordon Williams is going to China this fall."