I signed up to be a volunteer firefighter in my hometown of Middletown, N.J. Fighting fires isn’t for everybody, but for me, it was the most pleasing act of volunteerism. It was tactile, tangible, and it paid huge dividends. It ties directly to your community and your neighbors.
My firehouse was a modest engine company — three engines, three garage doors and about 30 of the best men I’ve ever known. We fought all the usual fires that break out in the suburbs: brush fires, car fires, dumpsters, dryers, light fixtures — and worst of all, the occasional house, already in flames when we arrived. I remember one such house fire — the structure was fully involved with flames and smoke. I was wearing a breathing apparatus, conducting a search on my hands and knees, when I felt something warm, squishy and furry on the floor of a closet. I instinctively tucked it in my coat. When I got outside, I saw two small eyes staring up at me, and I returned the 3-week-old (and very scared) puppy to its grateful owners.
Someday he’ll be on Jimmy Fallon’s show telling this story and that puppy will have grown up to become the dog from “The Artist.”
As I write this, news is breaking that NBC has opened an investigation into Williams’s lies about the Iraq chopper incident. The fact that they’re willing to take that step, which portends consequences if the investigation turns out badly, makes me think they’re worried that it’s not just the chopper that he’s been lying about. Let me play devil’s advocate, though: What does it matter, really, if he’s a compulsive self-aggrandizing liar? It matters to NBC because he’s the face of their news division and they’re stuck with him (for the moment), but what does the average viewer care if the guy who reads the ‘prompter every night at 6:30 is a serial fabulist about his personal experiences? There’s an odd archaic undertone to some of big media’s criticism of Williams that seems to assume that network anchorman is still a very serious job with an almost sacred public trust, as if the Cronkite era hadn’t ended decades ago and Americans’ confidence in the media hadn’t almost completely collapsed. Williams is in the TV business and no one on the news side of the TV business enjoys as much celebrity status as a network anchor, so yeah, go figure that he might be a blowhard who strains to impress his celebrity friends with exaggerated stories. If you trust or distrust NBC’s news coverage, it’s not because their top mouthpiece likes to tell tall tales about his heroism, it’s because you’ve made a judgment over years of watching that their correspondents tend to be, or not be, accurate. Do you think the next prompter-reader they hire is going to make their coverage 25 percent more or less credible? These are big institutions with their own institutional (and political) biases. The fact that the handsome guy in front of the camera may be a chronic BS-er about his own exploits is a fart in the wind.
I’ll say this for him, though. The fact that a guy who actually piloted a Chinook in Iraq is now having trouble remembering whether he came under fire or not is a point in Williams’s favor, no? I get why Ed and others say it’s bad news for him — Rich Krell, the pilot, was the only witness who supported Wiliams’s initial claim that his chopper came under small arms fire — but if Krell is now “questioning his memories” after other men on the same mission contradicted him, it’s evidence that you can, in good faith, misremember whether you were attacked or not.
Update: Nice catch by Grabien: Williams told Esquire magazine in 2005 that he once saved two puppies from a fire. Is that him being fuzzy on the details in another story of personal heroism or is it just a detail that he neglected to mention in the excerpt above? In this case, self-aggrandizement is harder to prove: The excerpt above, where he mentioned just one puppy, came six years after the Esquire piece.