Friday, February 06, 2015
By now, you might be aware of a tale that Brian Williams, NBC News anchor, had been telling about his time in Iraq -- how he was in a helicopter that was shot down. Turns out it wasn't true. He was in a helicopter an hour behind the one hit by ground fire. The internet is out in force mocking him. Williams has apologized publicly. Some say he made the story up to make himself look good. Others ascribe the falsehood to a bad memory, which Williams does as well. If it was memory, the lesson here is never to trust it. Williams must know the old newsroom cliche -- "If your mother says she loves you, check it out." The point is never to rely on what you think you know but on the facts, which might be quite different. Certainly in Williams case they were. We know memory is slippery and often deceitful. Scientists have implanted false memories in test subjects time and again to show that the brain will willingly recall incidents and evidence that never occurred. PR done right relies on accuracy and avoids spin. This means practitioners should always check facts rather than recalling them. Getting facts wrong might not be as embarrassing as what happened to Williams, but it does impact the credibility practitioners need in their work.