I recently talked to a donor close to Mitt Romney. He said that one of the reasons Romney briefly flirted with a third run for the White House is that he spent the last two years hearing from fans telling him he should run again. They’d come up to him at airports and parties and say only flattering and encouraging things. It’s easy to imagine how misleading that could be. No one was going to run up to Romney and say, “Don’t even think of running again.” It was only when he actually tested the sincerity of the flattery that he discovered he was getting a false market signal.

And that’s Mitt Romney, a vastly more controversial figure. Until this story broke, Williams was an unobtrusive news-reading mannequin who occasionally broke character to tell jokes — and fake tales of valor — on late-night talk shows. Perhaps he told these stories because, deep down, he knew he was a false idol. Or maybe not.

But it is instructive to watch Williams’s fellow media Olympians rally to his defense. They have an investment in a system that rewards celebrity so handsomely — and not just financially. They are the last beneficiaries of the Old Order, when nightly news anchors were cultivated to be “the voice of God,” as insiders at CBS used to call the position.