THE BLOG
02/17/2015 04:43 pm ET Updated Apr 17, 2015

That's Show Biz/ Corrupt Condos

I'd say, at least part of the tempest about Brian Williams's alleged exaggerations/lies/amnesia regarding his Iraq, Katrina, Mandela adventures, etc., is to blame on coverage cutbacks by the big TV networks. While 30 years ago, the then Big Three -- ABC, CBS and NBC (Mr. Williams's employer) --- had dozens of correspondents, including some abroad, there are far fewer now, as with big newspapers.

So the celeb known as ''the anchor'' has garnered an ever-larger percentage of networks news' money and attention. These hosts are under persistent pressure, fueled by the necessary narcissism and vast salaries, to promote themselves as world-historical personalities -- making themselves players in great events, albeit leavened by (a stagey) self-deprecation.

The networks lavish so much attention on the anchorpersons that relatively few Americans know the names of the other network journalists, who, more accurately, should be called entertainers anyway.

Meanwhile, these enterprises, to push aside charges from the right that they're leftie elitists, get the anchors to very self-consciously present themselves as comrades in arms with U.S. troops. This can often seem forced. As Tom Lehrer once sang in "Send the Marines," "We'll send the best we've got, [the film stars] John Wayne and Randolph Scott.''

Television journalism is mostly an entertainment/personality/emotional vehicle, not a serious ''content'' medium. At best, it's a highly theatrical headline service. So Mr. Williams, et al., are tempted to embellish stories to emphasize their centrality in the news and their emotional bonds with viewers. (Of course, even a "rigorous reporter'' covering, say, the bond market, should have a bit of the entertainer's knack for holding an audience.)

Spending more money to obtain and verify more "content'' (i.e., ''facts'') isn't part of networks' business plans. Most Americans are more interested in opinion and personality anyway. And unless U.S. troops are fighting abroad, Americans, except the affluent and some intellectuals, usually have little interest in foreign things.

Of course, like Mr. Williams, most of us redact our pasts, though usually not so much for career reasons, as with an anchorman. We forget, reconstitute and transpose events and chronology. Then we try to untangle the lines of contingency and intention that made us. (In so doing, we pile up even higher hills of regret until, if we're fortunate, the sense of accelerating time leads to a weary acceptance of our messy histories.)

One of the best current specialists in the flimsy architecture of memory is the English novelist Julian Barnes (See "The Sense of an Ending''). Proust may be the king of this domain.

But Brian Williams seems to have set out early to publicly/officially mislead, and he could have long-ago corrected himself. Perhaps he will in his memoirs, with which he'll make more millions. Another prediction: Mr. Williams will host a talk show. He, of course, has the gift of gab, and he seems to actually like people, unlike, say, Johnny Carson (whose basic aloofness I always liked).

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The Feb. 8 New York Times story headlined "Hidden Wealth Flows to Elite New York Condos'' detailed how vast quantities of foreign wealth (much of it ill-gotten) has flowed into American real estate, much of it through dummy companies. While this flow has helped send housing prices soaring in some sexy U.S. cities, and thus driven from them more of the middle class, there's happier signs here.

It's a reminder how nations, such as America, with the rule of law, including clear property rights -- instead of arbitrary governance by the crooks who run such places as Russia -- are rewarded. Police/gangster states are not reliable places to keep your money. You never know when the rules will be changed without warning and the rulers demand a bigger cut.

If not for certain ruthless individuals but certainly for entire nations, honest and orderly legal systems, subject to constant review by uncensored news media and democratically elected officials, create far more wealth than can a dictatorship. Only a fool would put most of his money in places like Russia and China.

Indeed, Mr. Putin reportedly has billions salted away in nice nations. See here.

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We just got back from staying at a relative's place in Florida, whose warmth and that you can walk with little fear of fracture on the ice especially entices cabin-fevered New Englanders this winter. It's enough to make you tolerate the Sunshine State's grim grid in many places of too-wide roads, strip malls and relentlessly chewed-up countryside.

(I was on vacation when the Williams crisis exploded -- it's the perfect vacation story, as People Magazine is perfect for doctors' waiting rooms.)

Robert Whitcomb (rwhitcomb51@gmail.com) oversees New England Diary (newenglanddiary.com). He's a former Wall Street Journal, International Herald Tribune and Providence Journal editor, a Fellow of the Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy and a partner in Cambridge Management Group (cmg625.com), a healthcare-sector consultancy.