So NBC anchor Brian Williams was caught telling a lie. He was not in a helicopter hit by enemy fire in Iraq, despite having said he was on a number of occasions.
The reaction to Williams has been widespread outrage. Most people recognize that lies don’t happen in isolation, and someone willing to make up one story is likely to make up a lot of stories. And, predictably, tall tales told by Williams are now coming out of the woodwork. His reputation is shattered, and his career is likely over.
But what if I were to tell you that the people who called Williams’s falsehoods to light didn’t like him? What if they worked for ABC News or some other competitor? What if they had a longstanding grudge against the guy? Or, for you Mormons out there, what if Brian Williams were a member of the LDS Church? Would any of those qualifiers lessen the severity of what Williams did? Would any of them make him an honest man? Would they restore his credibility and salvage his career? Of course not.
But when you change the name “Brian Williams” to “Glenn Beck,” all bets are off.
This began on a Facebook thread, where noted Mormon scholar Daniel Peterson linked to this article about Glenn Beck’s “crisis of faith.” I jumped in and pointed out that Glenn Beck, like Brian Williams, doesn’t let the truth get in the way of a good story, so, like Brian Williams, he can’t be trusted. Beck’s defenders then leapt into the fray with weak attempts to claim Beck was just misquoted by his own website, but the conversation quickly shifted to… me. Because, see, I worked for a Democrat at one point, and Democrats are Beck’s ideological enemies. And I’m just a bitter Beck hater because Beck said nasty things about my father. Also, Glenn Beck is a fellow Mormon, and one Mormon has no business calling another Mormon a liar.
That same sentiment spilled over into the comments section of my previous post. A comment from Andy said my “infatuation with all things Glenn Beck is… disturbing,” while a commenter named Nate directly referenced the Facebook exchange and concluded that my behavior there was “at least as” bad as Beck’s original lie – meaning it was probably worse.
“In a recent Facebook thread where you repeatedly attacked Beck as a “liar” who had embarrassed the church, I couldn’t help but feel that your behavior in that Facebook thread was at least as deplorable and embarrassing to the church as you think Beck’s comment was on that radio show.”
– Nate, February 7, 2015
Nate and I discussed this further in what was, I hope, a civil exchange in the comments section, but I wanted to bring this to light on the main page here, because many who read my original posts may not pore over what is said about them in the comments.
I found it interesting when I raised the Brian Williams comparison, Nate had no problem with using the “deplorable and embarrassing” language he criticized previously. To quote Nate again:
It is beginning to look like Williams is a pathological liar. How could he possibly retain his position as the face of NBC News?
How, indeed? Also, why is it okay to call Brian Williams a pathological liar but not Glenn Beck? Referring to Williams as a liar is entirely appropriate, but referring to Beck as a liar is “deplorable and embarrassing” – indeed, “at least as deplorable and embarrassing” as the vicious lie Glenn Beck told to millions of listeners.
I don’t get that at all.
I also have no patience for the idea that because Beck is a Mormon, he should get a pass. If anything, Latter-day Saints should have less patience for dishonesty from one of their own than for someone like Brian Williams. Beck’s prominence as a Mormon requires more moral accountability, not less, and Mormons ought to be the first in line to expose Beck’s dishonesty.
Also allow me, for a moment, to address the issue of my oft-cited “bitterness” and “infatuation with all things Glenn Beck.” I have repeatedly written on this blog about the damage that festering hatred can do to the soul. You’ll have to take my word for it that my so-called “obsession” with Glenn Beck – who is mentioned in only 32 of my 833 posts here, and usually only in passing – is not fueled by half a decade of festering bile. Rather, it is motivated by concern for the damage Glenn Beck is doing to the church, which is considerable. A dishonest, inaccurate, and apocalyptic prophet of doom is the most prominent public face of the church to which I belong and a stumbling block for good people who are rightly disturbed by his bad example. I have a big problem with that.
Still, you may not believe me. You may think this is nothing more than a schoolyard grudge. Such is the way of things – I’m the only one who knows my heart on this subject, and there’s nothing I can do about whatever judgment you choose to make on that score.
So let’s suppose my detractors are right. Suppose I really am nothing more than a seething cauldron of anti-Beck bitterness, and that I spend every waking moment of every day nursing my anti-Beck wrath to keep it warm.
How does that change the facts I’ve cited?
How does my being a terrible person make Glenn Beck an honest one?