Back in the good ol’ days you could get away with things like makin’ up stories from a war zone,” Brian Williams says. The well-known NBC Nightly News anchor is on leave from his job following revelations he misled the public about his experience in Iraq while reporting on the U.S.-led invasion there 12 years ago. “It’s social media that’s ruining everything. Facebook, Twitter—how’s a guy supposed to buff his image when he can’t even tell a little tale without the whole frickin’ world knowin’ about it?”
We caught up with Williams at a bar in New York City to find out how he’s doing since stepping down from his duties at NBC. We were joined by other prominent figures who’ve been ground up in the social media maw.
“They never tell you when the rules change” says one-time American icon Bill Cosby. “Look at Jack Kennedy. He was having affairs left and right and the press left him alone so he could be assassinated with his reputation in tact. But me? You do a couple of dozen little things and—boom! it’s all over the news and the reputation you spent a lifetime creating is ruined in an instant.”
Cosby, a ground-breaking black comedian and actor who rose to superstardom in the 1980s as the lovable and upright Cliff Huxtable on the Cosby Show, has been accused of drugging and then taking advantage of women. Some 20 alleged victims have spoken out about his actions over the past three decades.
One superstar who has so far deftly navigated the social media maw is Tom Brady, the quarterback of the four-time champion New England Patriots whose good looks and upright reputation have won him the enmity of foes on and off the football field. Although he just piloted his team to a Super Bowl victory over the Seattle Seahawks, Brady’s big win is marred by unresolved allegations that he or someone else on the Patriots deflated the footballs used in his team’s playoff victory against the Indianapolis Colts two weeks before the Super Bowl.
“”I get social media,” says Brady, who still has a life and only joined the conversation at the bar for a moment before joining up with his model wife to go out to dinner. “As someone who grew up alongside computer technology, I consider myself comfortable with it. But that doesn’t make it any easier when you find yourself at the center of a scandal, your integrity being argued over by people who don’t know you from Adam. I imagine it must have been easier before technology, because accusations like cheating could be investigated more or less privately. Now authorities like the NFL are under pressure to get out in front of a cheating scandal so they can protect their own reputation. In the end, though, everyone’s reputation is the loser. Well, I’ve got to go.”
Several journalists were at the table, including former New York Times writer Jayson Blair. Blair and the other journalists were caught plagiarizing other people’s wrok. “In the old days it was very very hard to catch someone plagiarizing,” says Blair, who lost job about 15 years ago when it was discovered that he had fabricated quotes and used other people’s reporting as the basis of his won. “Today, all you have to do is drop a paragraph into the Google search box and you can find out instantly if someone has written those words before. It’s just a very tough environment today.”
“Do you think news people were any better than us 20 years ago?” asks Williams, knocking back his third whiskey neat. “Not in the least. But they had the good fortune of working before everything you do is known by everybody all at once. Humans were never designed to be perfect. We all cheat a little. We all lie a little. Suddenly we’re not allowed to do that anymore? We need to get real here, people, before another innocent person who lies or cheats a little finds his reputation in tatters. We need to bring sanity back to the world!”
“Here, here,” say the others, and they clink their glasses.
This is a work of satire. It is fictional news article not meant to be taken seriously. Photos (some modified): tpr, rd, sk, ka, and id (Creative Commons). Not necessarily an endorsed use of images.
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