Brian Williams has been a trusted voice in news for decades, but questions about his credibility have been abounding since last week, when he admitted that his story about coming under fire while reporting in Iraq was false.
Of course, Williams is just the latest person accused of embellishing or telling a false story as if it were true. Rolling Stone faced outrage toward the end of 2014 when the publication admitted doubts about the truth of the account of the key source for an important story. When American Sniper hit theaters, people pointed out that many apparent lies in Chris Kyle’s memoir, which served as source material for the movie.
The impulse and the ability to stretch the truth comes so naturally. You don’t have to teach a child to lie. Every single one of us has added or edited details to make ourselves look better. Most of us did so today—probably about how busy we are or how amazing/awful our weekend was. Effortlessly and with clear consciences, we regularly make cheap sacrifices of sincerity.
Why then all the outrage over Brian Williams? The voices of condemnation have grown loud and strong. His own peers rushed to throw the first stone. He has since temporarily stepped down from his anchor position while NBC investigates his Iraq story and other past reports. His tall tale might cost him his career.
Here are a few things we can learn from Brian Williams:
The Temptation to Embellish is Strong.
We all feel the pull toward exaggeration constantly. We want the things we do to sound more dramatic, more exciting, than daily life tends to be. But the world doesn’t want or need us to embellish our stories. This should come as a huge relief. Nothing is gained by sensationalizing your daily life or your testimony. The pride and ego that motivate us to only does harm. We must resist it. Williams has released us all from the pressure to add a single untruth to our lives.
Integrity Still Matters.
As much as we’ve become a culture that, in a lot of ways, loves to see our celebrities fall, Brian Williams is different. This is a news anchor and journalist. His one job was to be trusted. We want voices we can depend on in a world that makes it difficult to know who to trust. We need symbols of truth to look to. Not just in our media, but in our daily lives. Williams reminds us that integrity is still looked for and taken seriously.
Betrayal is Hard to Forgive.
We trusted Brian Williams to tell us the truth—that’s what makes this one hard. Due to the trust extended, we now feel betrayed. Even the best reputation can be undone in a single letdown. Trust that takes a lifetime to build can be lost in a moment. That gives us all the more reason to feel free from the temptation to exaggerate our own stories. Williams’ rejected apology is a tough lesson on the cost of deception.
Take it from Brian Williams, no one wants the false version of yourself. No one really cares whether or not he was on that helicopter. They care that he lied about it to sensationalize his own story and in doing so betrayed the public’s trust in him as a journalist. How much more so should we safeguard the truthfulness of our own Christian witness?
Daily integrity with your life goes a long way in the real world. Don’t betray your story. To do so is to deny the one God is writing with your life. It’s submitting to the lie that somehow you are not enough, that God is not enough. Casting doubt on the sufficiency of Jesus to be the ultimate truth we can trust. The life and testimony you have been given is the only one you truly need.
Brian Kammerzelt is an assistant professor and chair of the communications department at the Moody Bible Institute. For more information, visit www.critiquebycreating.com or follow him on Twitter @ProfKammerzelt.