My answer to the question, “So is Brian Williams really an idiot, or does he just play one on TV?”

In the Comments thread to my post yesterday about a comment that Brian Williams made the day before indicating that he apparently does not know what “the debt ceiling” actually means, reader SW asked: “So, is he really an idiot or does he just play one on the tv?”

I answered:

I hadn’t thought of Williams as a lightweight before, which is one reason I was so shocked that he apparently doesn’t know what “the debt ceiling” actually means.  I rarely watch the network evening news shows anymore, but when I do, It’s his show that I watch.  The CBS and ABC ones seem to have made a concerted effort to play to conservatives, I guess because the audience for these shows these days is so largely white elderly folks.  

There was a good Opinionator piece in the NYT yesterday by a Philosophy prof. named Jason Stanley, called “Philosopher Kings and Fiscal Cliffs,” about how the misleading language used to discuss these things–which actually are specific facts–leads to dangerously false analogies and misunderstandings by the public, fed by deliberate misrepresentations by pols. (The article engages in a misrepresentation of sorts, itself, by equating Repub misrepresentations with Dem ones, but, oh, well.)  But Williams isn’t any old member of the general public. How can the main news anchor for NBC Nightly News not know what the debt ceiling is, and think it’s something that it’s not?

Williams’ Wikipedia bio is surprisingly sparse about his professional background, but my guess is that he’s never been a hard-news reporter on anything really complicated.  He apparently came to prominence by covering Hurricane Katrina for NBC News–hardly a complicated news event requiring knowledge beyond what the general public has.  But it just really surprises me that he apparently doesn’t even read the NYT or the Washington Post on major, complex stories such as the debt ceiling thing.  

Oh, well. This isn’t the era of Walter Cronkite.  So, what else is new?

I watched [Williams’] show again last night, and near the end he did a wonderful story on something dear to my heart: The Puppy Bowl.  The dogs all are rescues, up for adoption. Again, nothing complicated.  But, at least in my opinion, important.