There Is No “Wall of Silence.” My Twitter feed was—and still is—filed with assertions that the mainstream media will circle the wagons to protect one of their own. This is precisely what has not happened. The New York Times has published accounts that cast serious doubt not only on Williams’ later storytelling, but also on the original NBC story 12 years ago. Maureen Dowd’s Sunday column is brutal, reporting concerns within NBC News of Williams’ tendency to aggrandize himself. In The New Yorker, satirist Andy Borowitz wrote an acidic “diary” painting the NBC anchor as the embodiment of upper-class privilege. The Washington Post, CNN, Slate and The Daily Beast—media outlets that would never be confused with right-wing zealotry—have been highly critical of Williams. Only a few familiar faces—Dan Rather and TIME’s Joe Klein—have spoken up in Williams’ defense.
You can argue that these outlets been “forced” into this because the digital world makes it impossible to ignore the depredations of traditional media. Or you can note that the media themselves have come to accept that they need to be subject to the same critical gaze as other institutions. Thus the birth of ombudsmen and public accountability—from The New York Times and Jayson Blair’s tall tales, to the Washington Post’s Janet Cooke and her eight-year-old addict, to CBS and the George W. Bush National Guard story, to CNN’s Tailwind scandal and beyond. Whatever the reason, the notion that the “mainstream media” has rushed to protect Brian Williams is laughable.