Bryan Williams, the anchor for NBC Nightly News, has been placed on a six month suspension without pay. The problem is that he has told a story about his reporting during the Iraq war where the helicopter he was on came under RPG and AK47 fire. Military witnesses claim that was true of another helicopter that day, but not the one Williams was on. The story raises questions about his credibility.
Williams has received some severe criticism in the media. This incident has raised questions about other reports he has made. Questions are being raised about some of his first person reporting during Katrina, and did he really rescue puppies from a fire?
What I find intriguing about the media is that they are the same ones who have given us reports through the years that suggest lying is normal. “Everyone lies,” they report. One expert said, “Lying has long been a part of everyday life. We couldn’t get through the day without being deceptive.” In the course of a week, people deceive 30% of the face to face contacts they have. Society, we have been told, often rewards and encourages lying. Lying is presented as a social lubricant that prevents us from hurting people’s feelings. One article ended with the reflection that “perhaps our social lives would collapse under the weight of relentless honesty.”1
This kind of theme has been in news reports off and on for the past twenty years. Humanity may have trouble telling the truth, but I’ve never bought the premise that it isn’t a big deal. In my mind the wisdom of scripture confronts us. Lying is an abomination to the Lord (Proverbs 6:17). “Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment” (Proverbs 12:19, ESV). “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:9–10 ESV). Being honest matters; lying has consequences.
So which is it for the media? Is lying a serious matter than undermines credibility or is lying something everybody does and is really no big deal. History would seem to suggest that it depends on the slant of a particular news story.
In life, however, I’ve known some habitual liars. My approach around such a person is to be extremely guarded. You can’t trust them. You can easily be hurt by them. In the real world, there seems to be a connection between telling the truth and credibility.