When the whole Brian Williams thing went down, I wanted to chime in because my read of the situation was that the story he was telling slowly morphed over time, the way all war stories tend to do. Honesty is obviously a chief value in a journalist, and to betray that is wrong. But I didn’t think that Brian Williams deserved the hate being thrown his way, if for nothing else, because he has been a friend to the veteran community.
I chose not to comment though (much), because the horse, as it were, had already left the stable. The veteran community had already decided that Brian Williams was an exaggerator and a liar of the worst kind. Ranger Up, a kind of barometer for the vibes running through the veteran community labeled him the “Douche of the Week.”
Every comment thread on military-themed pages filled with Brian Williams memes.
It was already over, and the outrage machine had done its job. To try to get in front of that would have been futile, and suicide by meme.
In private conversations with many other veterans, a similar sentiment was shared, that he was wrong, but the pitchfork and flame treatment was largely overdone.
Related, I recently read something about Seth MacFarlane, who was being criticized for jokes about Caitlyn Jenner. He captured the idea I’m trying to get at as “the outrage industry,” which I think is accurate.
When asked how the jokes came about during a recent “Ted 2” conference call, “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane told The Huffington Post he’s “too savvy to comment on the issue to the media.” He explained, “Once the outrage industry shuts down, I will be happy to have an adult conversation about all of this stuff anytime anyone wants, but, even though I’m on the side of support, I just don’t think there’s any way to … you just got to play it safe because the climate is just too charged. Anything I say can and will be used against me.”
On top of this is last weekend’s Star-Bellied Sneetches back and forth on who is the bigger asshole, combat veterans who put signs in their yards asking for respect when it comes to fireworks, or combat veterans who get annoyed with those combat veterans, or combat veterans who call out those combat veterans (and on and on…).
It’s all kind of sad, because I think a lot of reasonable voices avoid getting involved in many different conversations (especially online) out of fear of being dredged through the digital mud.