We Can’t Forgive Him for That

I walked into Renew Float spa last night when Brian, a massage therapist, who knows about my time in Iraq and my experiences as an Army journalist, hit me with the question of the hour.

“So, does the reporter have to go?”

By reporter, he meant NBC Nightly News’ Brian Williams—questionable stories-guy.

I don’t know. Does he have to go?

Since the start of Brian Williams-gate, I have been thinking a lot about who gets to tell us about war. Whose vision is considered the most clear and unbiased? Whose wounds get the largest audience? As a low ranking student at the Defense Information School (DINFOS) preparing to go forth to gather television stories for AFN, I was taught to search out the most seemingly unimportant member of every group, military or civilian. “That’s the person the public wants to hear about,” I was told. “That person will tell the best story.”

I agree up to a point.

We like hearing scary stories from non-scary people. The more outrageous and frightening a story turns out to be the more we want a calm, (dare I say it) conservative,  (can we admit it?) male voice in a dark suit to tell us about it. Think The Most Trusted Man in America—Walter Cronkite, or author of The Greatest Generation—Tom Brokaw, or even Aaron Brown, who on his first day at CNN found himself on location covering 9/11.

Of course, we all like to read or watch the insider’s view of the closed world of the combat zone. Which is why movies like Restrepo, American Sniper, and The Hurt Locker are so popular. We like to be there with our hero on the eve of battle. We want to feel their fear and insecurity from the safety of our living rooms.
But it takes a lot of courage to get those stories, to live those moments, to experience that kind danger.

In recent months we have seen the bitter results of being a driven, talented, and courageous journalist and now visions of young men in orange jumpsuits have entered our communal nightmare. I have a hunch that none of them could have done anything differently with their lives. War stories must be told and the people who tell them are an amazing breed.

We like knowing that those people are out there gathering the news for us, but we really like our father figures. The reporters who seem unaffected by the horror that they see. Those reporters come from us, but aren’t like us. They are the guys in charge who will make us feel better about the big, bad world with their educated speech patterns and knowing smiles.

We are angry at NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams, because he was supposed to be that calm guy in a suit, without any emotions, who carefully explained the war to us. He has to go, not because of his questionable handling of the facts, but because his secret is out. He was affected by what he saw and he’s just as crazy scary as the rest of us.

And we can’t forgive him for that.

Sylvia Bowersox first went to Iraq in 2003 as a US Army broadcast journalist. She was stationed in Mosul and Baghdad, but reported from Coalition outposts around the country. A year in Iraq wasn’t enough, so she returned to Baghdad as a civilian, spending almost two years working in the US Embassy as a State Department press officer. Bowersox received her BA in English literature from San Francisco State University, and is currently completing her MA in creative writing at California State University, Chico. She was recently honored by a Pushcart nomination for her nonfiction essay, “This War Can’t be All Bad.” Her nonfiction essay, “The Importance of a Dollar Bill,” has been submitted to the National Associate Writing Program Awards competition. She lives in Chico with her husband Jon, her son Holden, and her service dog Timothy.