Military Wire: What veterans think when the media gets it wrong

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Michael Schindler
Michael Schindler

Brian Williams, the NBC Nightly News anchor, is taking some heat for “misremembering” an event in Iraq that took place in 2003. According to his original version of events, he was aboard a helicopter that was downed by a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG). Last week, he recanted that version only after several soldiers who were involved called into question Mr. Williams’ version of events.

He apologized for his false statement and NBC is now launching an internal investigation.

Aside from Mr. Williams’ character and credibility being called into question, some are questioning whether today’s media is more about storytelling and less about reporting the facts and truth. After all, isn’t it the “story” that grabs the attention of the viewer more than the details?

Do details matter? When the media gets it wrong on veterans issues or events, veterans notice.

For some veterans, the details (aka “truth”) are incredibly important; for others, they are willing to provide grace and move past the issue if past actions outweigh the one or two moments of bad judgment.

Joe Davis, an Air Force veteran who served his country for 24-plus years and then went into the non-profit sector, and is now serving as the national spokesman for Veterans of Foreign Wars, found Williams’ embellishment “reprehensible.” He further stated “that he {Williams) has no idea what ‘direct fire’ means.”

Ouch.

Younger veterans like Paul Rieckhoff, founder and CEO of IAVA (Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America) seemed a bit more forgiving. “Persecuting him over this mistake will do little to help our veterans and service members. I am confident that in years ahead, Brian will continue to dedicate himself to our vets — as he always has — and inspire others to do the same.”

Generational differences? Condemnation vs. Grace? There are so many directions one can go with this.

But why is this Williams’ issue more front page than the over-hyped myth that most veterans suffer from PTSD? (Most veterans don’t suffer from PTSD.) Or why does the issue of the 22 veteran suicides a day take a backseat to Mr. Williams’ “misremembering” how events took place a dozen years ago?

A credible storyteller matters in reporting – and there is little doubt that consequences will be administered. But let’s focus on real issues when it comes to veterans and their families…like what happens after the homecoming hugs.

Bottom line: The details typically matter to those personally involved. Sure, the Williams’ incident raises some eyebrows – and there should be consequences for his admitted actions – but does this incident warrant a Scarlet Letter around his neck? I’m rather certain this incident is a great reminder to all journalists to “stay true to the facts.”

Oh. One last note: Mr. Williams is also being questioned for a story he reported during the Katrina natural disaster that he may have also embellished. My dad told me that if I tell the truth in life I won’t have to remember what I said when I’m questioned. Good thing because my memory seems to be slipping – but nonetheless, I’m thinking I should just confess now to all my dirty laundry so I don’t become tomorrow’s news story.

By Michael Schindler

Michael Schindler, Navy veteran, and president of Operation Military Family, is a guest writer for several national publications, author of the book “Operation Military Family” and “The Military Wire” blog. He is also a popular keynote and workshop speaker who reaches thousands of service members and their families every year through workshops and seminars that include “How to Battle-Ready Your Relationship” or “What Your Mother-in-Law Didn’t Tell You.” He received the 2010 Outstanding Patriotic Service Award from the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs.

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