Media Seek Science to Blame Brian's Brain for Falsehood

Brad Fox | February 11, 2015
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Media are scrambling to find a scientific reason to let discredited NBC anchor Brian Williams off the hook for his false claim he was in a helicopter that was shot down in Iraq.

Here are some of the theories they've put forth to blame his falsehood on neurology, instead of a willful attempt to deceive:

  • The New York Times argues that Brian fell victim to "the nature of memory" by making multiple "1% enhancements" over time that ultimately resulted in a very different story.
  • CNN posted a commentary by Dr. Ford Vox to suggest that Williams tricked himself into a false memory due to "cell division errors."
  • PBS cites a study saying that researchers, through interview coercion, were able to create false memories in people - such as that they had committed crimes. 
  • PBS also points to a Feb. 4 piece in The New Yorker boldly titled, "You Have No Idea What Happened" to blame Brian's hippocampus for altering his memory.
  • L.A. Times cites a memory researcher to suggest Williams was “convinced of these made-up memories through the power of suggestion.”

The PBS article concludes that Williams' brain may have "merely made a very human mistake":

"So in telling repeated stories about his traumatic landing in Iraq, Williams may not have consciously erred, but merely made a very human mistake. While many would argue that he’s still in the wrong, the outcry over Williams’s slip-up does suggest that war and disaster reports could be met with more scrutiny in the future, especially now that the internet and social media allow anyone to very publicly fact check a story."

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